Families throughout the world have the iconic Dolly Parton to thank for founding a book-gifting program designed to encourage literacy and reading among young children. The Imagination Library began in 1995 and has since helped to put over 133 million books into the hands of children from birth to age 5.
Originally developed as a tribute to her father, Imagination Library has expanded from Parton’s childhood hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee, to inspire children who live as far as Australia, Canada, the U.K. and Ireland. In addition to the traditional book format, the program offers audio books and those written in braille to ensure the needs of all children are met.
According to the about us section on the program’s website, Parton wants to help ensure children have access to high quality, age appropriate books regardless of their family’s financial situation.
Nicole Fowles, communications manager for the Delaware County District Library, spoke about how special the program is and how it allows families to read together.
“The really great thing about the program is typically the book has a flap on the back cover that encourages interaction with the parents and the child,” Fowles said. “You’re not going to get that when you just buy a book anywhere else.”
At the state level, the Ohio legislature in July 2019 approved $5 million over the course of two years to be spent on jump-starting the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library, which was the inspiration of First Lady Fran DeWine.
“First Lady DeWine first learned about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library through her grandchildren’s participation in the program at their local library in Greene County,” the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library website states. “She saw the impact these books were having on her own family and their community and wanted every child across Ohio to have that same opportunity.
“We hope to open up enrollment to every Ohio child by 2021.”
Delaware county families are eligible to register by going to the program’s website at imaginationlibrary.com. The forms can be printed and mailed in as well.
Imagination Library is designed to be a catalyst for growing a child’s love of reading. The Delaware County District Library holds a graduation ceremony for those children that are aging out of the program. It is held at the library to help introduce the children to where they can go to find more reading material and even helps them sign up for their own library cards. Fowles even has both her children enrolled in the program.
“The more words that you say to a child, the more that a child is reading and familiarizing themselves with words, with singing, with talking, the more ready they are going to be for early literacy,” Fowles said.
For Delaware County residents who don’t have children but want to help with the program, they can sponsor a child. For more information about sponsorships, visit the United Way of Delaware County website or call 614-436-8929.
In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, Imagination Library recently announced the creation of “Goodnight with Dolly,” a 10-week series of weekly videos in which Parton will read a select Imagination Library book as children prepare for bedtime. The series, which will be streamed online, premiers at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 2.
Alex Hulvalchick can be reached on Twitter @amhulvalchick.