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Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

by Patricia Vanikiotis

Mar 23, 2024

I can’t remember a time when books and reading weren’t a big part of my life. In my mind’s eye I can still clearly see storybooks that were part of our family collection, and trips to the local library every Saturday morning with my dad were highlights of my week. early childhood literacy I remember how I nearly burst with pride upon signing and receiving my first library card, and the frustration I felt at being limited to just five books at check-out time. I liked playing “school” with my younger siblings, which mostly involved me sitting in front of my “class” and reading picture books to them. I believe I can claim teaching my younger sister Julie to read before she started school, although I suspect my teaching methods may have been closer to brow-beating than gently guided instruction.

That love of literature carried all through my school years and steered me to my chosen profession as an English teacher. When I became a mother, I passed along that love of books to my daughters, reading to them every day from the time they were babies and taking them to the library and bookstores to augment our already impressive home collection. In my own life and in the lives of my children (and, now, grandchildren), I have seen how books and reading skills can open up the world earlly childhood literacy and present a host of possibilities to readers.

I was therefore pleased to accept an invitation to a breakfast recently which celebrated the first year of my home county’s participation in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program. Dolly Parton  Started in 1995 in her home county of Sevier, Tennessee, this program honors the singer’s father, who had not learned to read as a child. She recognized the doors that could be opened through literacy and resolved to put books into the hands of children, starting from birth. As the National Commission on Reading has noted, “The single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school.”

Starting with one county, then expanding to the entire state of Tennessee, over the years the program spread across the United States and has now reached into Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Parents can easily register their children online for free, and each month from birth to 5 years a brand-new book is delivered in the child’s name to their home. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to read to the child daily Early childhood literacy and re-read books often. As of this spring, the Imagination Library has gifted over 235 million books in all and mails out 2.9 million books each month, with one in seven children in the United States under the age of 5 receiving a book each month. Books are chosen each year by Blue Ribbon Book Selection committees in each country. Made up of early childhood literacy experts from the participating nations, the committees select books that align with children’s developmental milestones.

At our breakfast we heard from speakers who shared statistics and research about the impact early literacy can have on future success in school and careers, and we also learned more about the local program in our county. One of the speakers is a member of my bookclub and a librarian for our Jackson County Library Services district. Carrie is also mother to Seamus, who was one of the first to be signed up for the Imagination Library in our county a year ago, when his mom signed him up before she even left the hospital after giving birth. Carrie was one of many who were instrumental in getting the program started in our county, beginning the process during the pandemic. The program requires local sponsorship partners, and the Jackson County Library Foundation and the United Rotary Clubs of Southern Oregon stepped up to provide funding and volunteers.

Since the program began here in Jackson County in January of 2023, 4,000 children have begun receiving books from their friend, Dolly. early childhood literacy We learned the goal for this coming year is to increase that number to 8,000, and eventually the hope is to include all of the estimated 11,000 children under the age of 5 who reside here. It was truly inspiring to hear about this wonderful program and to learn of the impact it can have on children and their families and, indeed, our entire community. When the request came at the end of the presentation for donations to continue support of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, I felt no hesitation in signing up as an ongoing donor. I couldn’t think of a better way to pass on my love of reading and books to a brand-new generation who would reap the benefits for the rest of their lives.

To find out if the Imagination Library is operating in your area and/or to donate to the program, go to the organization’s website to learn more.

— Patty Vanikiotis, associate editor/copy editor

 

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