Imagination Library, a free program, provides a book a month for kids up to the age of five
By Nicholas Siegel | Photos by Danny Alexander
THE CLASSIC CHILDREN’S BOOK The Little Engine that Could is one that has a special meaning for Becky King, director of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Floyd County. It’s a book she remembers her mom reading to her when she was young — one that helped fuel her interest in reading in the first place. Now that she is involved with the Imagination Library, she has the opportunity to help the children of this generation learn to love reading, too.
Dolly Parton launched the Imagination Library in 1995 specifically to benefit the children of her county in East Tennessee. It was a way for her to honor her father, who instilled a love of reading in her at an early age. Today, the program serves 1,800 communities in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK and provides 900,000 children with books through the mail each month.
“They’re high quality, beautiful illustrations, lovely stories with vocabulary that helps expand a child’s world,” said King. “I can’t say enough about the quality of the books and the fact that they’re age appropriate. The parents can immediately begin reading them to a child and truly expand a child’s world. It’s such a great program.”
The program is designed so that each child receives a book in the mail every month until they turn five. It’s absolutely free for families to sign up, which The Start of a Lifelong Journey Imagination Library, a free program, provides a book a month for kids up to the age of five is why the library depends heavily on sponsorships and donations to make their work possible.
“We are serving 3,541 children in September, and that’s 79.7 percent of the eligible children in our county,” says King. “So when I’m out and about, I think eight out of the ten little people I might run across in the mall or the grocery store are in this program and have the opportunity to have books all around them and the opportunity for families to read together. That is a great feeling.”
Each year, a Blue Ribbon committee in Tennessee looks at the books that are out there for children age five and younger and decides which ones will be distributed through the program. The committee has several members who have backgrounds in early childhood education, so they have expert insight into the most appropriate books to distribute. Locally, the program is also offered in Harrison, Scott and Washington counties, and King is also part of an advisory board for the newest branch— Jefferson County in Kentucky. With generous sponsors such as Junior League and WAVE 3, the Jefferson County branch will start their work with some of the zip codes in inner city Louisville.
For interested parents, there are many ways to register a child. “A parent can go online at imaginationlibrary.com, and register online, but we also have registration forms with so many of our partners,” said King. Some of these partners include the New Albany Public Library, YMCA, Head Start, WIC and Floyd Memorial Hospital. The Dolly Parton Imagination Library plays an important role in the literary lives of many children. “The beautiful bonding experience a parent and a child have sitting there reading that book together, it certainly expands the child’s literacy skills and gets them ready to read by the time they step in school for the first time,” King said. “I think a lot of families don’t realize the power they have as a child’s first teacher and all the opportunities they have to prepare them for an academic world or just the world in general. I think this program does exactly that.”