“You can never get enough books into the hands of enough children,” Dolly Parton says.
For the last several years, the Dollywood Foundation, headquartered in Pigeon Forge, has been promoting a program known as Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The idea is, essentially, that every pre-school child born in a given community should have the opportunity to receive 60 books between his/her true birthday and his/her fifth birthday.
One per month. In the mail. Free of charge.
All that has to happen is that enough “local champions” be found, identified, etc., to underwrite the approximately $25 per-year, per-child cost.
Who are these local champions? Per the literature, they are “businesses, individuals, United Ways, school systems, local and state government, foundations, and non-profits.”
Foundations? Non-profits? Enter Rotary International, which appears primed to take it on under its new president, John Germ of Chattanooga.
Germ has been visiting Rotary Clubs in other states to drum up interest. I was invited to, and attended, a meeting to hear more about it a couple of months ago. It’s a laudable idea. So, where did it originate?
“In 1995, Dolly Parton launched an exciting new effort,” the literature states, “to benefit the children of her home county in East Tennessee.”
Her vision was “to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month. By mailing high quality, age-appropriate books directly to their homes, she wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create.”
Dolly says she was also concerned that “every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income.”
The Imagination Library “became so popular that in the year 2000 she announced that she would make the program available for replication to any community that was willing to partner with her to support it locally.”
Since that time, some 80,000,000 books have been mailed to children in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. More than 1,600 local communities provide the Imagination Library to over 900,000 children every month.
The goal is to improve early childhood literacy, and the folks in Pigeon Forge say “statistics and independent reports” show that this is happening in spades.
Among the volumes headed to the kids who are fortunate enough to get enrolled in this program are “The Little Engine That Could,” “The House That Jack Built,” “The Owl and the Pussy Cat” and several other familiar titles.
Stress is laid on diversity, art appreciation, self-esteem, positivity and self-confidence. And on ensuring that parents engage with the kids, reading the books to them and discussing the books with them.
Quoted in the material is Tomie dePaola, American author and illustrator of more than 200 children’s books: “Reading is important, because if you can read, you can learn anything about everything and everything about anything.”
Not quoted in the materials is John Kieran (1892-1981), American author and TV personality. He is quoted, however, in today’s I Swear Crossword. Check it out.
Want more info? Go to imaginationlibrary.com. Then follow the prompts.