Imagination Library Fosters a Love of Reading and Learning

County music star Dolly Parton has been giving young children free books for over 23 years.

Special Collections: READING FOR THE SOUL

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Every bookwork can confirm that reading a good book can take you to a special place where your imagination runs free and everything is possible. To gift the love for books to as many kids as possible, Dolly Parton's Imagination Library gives out free books to young children up to the age of five.

The program began in 1995 and originally served children in Sevier County, Tennessee where Dolly grew up. It was such an instant success that only five years later, the initiative went national and is now available to children in Canada, the UK, and Australia.

Dolly is a country music superstar, songwriter, actress, author, successful business owner, and a philanthropist, but above all, she is truly a self-made woman. Dolly was born in a one-room cabin in Pittman Center, Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains. She was one of twelve children and her father worked very hard to care for his family, but never attended school and couldn't read and write. Dolly has said that he was the smartest man she ever knew, and he was the inspiration for her book gifting program.

Dolly's vision for Imagination Library was to get children really excited about books and to foster a love of reading. She wanted to ensure that children could own books no matter what their family incomes were. Literacy is so important said Dolly, because "if you can read, you can self-educate."

These gifts of high-quality, age-appropriate, books come directly to the children every month right to their mailboxes. The books are a mix of classic and contemporary children's books on a variety of different subjects including The Little Engine that Could (the first book that US and Canadian children receive), Llama Llama and the Bully Goat, Wheels on the Bus, Look out Kindergarten Here I Come, and other colorful, quality books.

The library mailed its one-millionth book in 2003 and by September 2018, over 109 million books have been sent out to young kids. This growth was possible thanks to a partnership with countless local champions (schools, non-profits organizations, businesses, and anyone who shares this mission) who promote Imagination Library online, enroll the children, and secure the funding to cover the costs.

According to the US Department of Education, around 30 million American adults are at a below basic literacy level or barely literate and Imagination Library works hard to change this, one child, at a time.

With all of Dolly’s successes, her father was the proudest of what she achieved with Imagination Library. "My dad was so proud when the kids would get the books. He just was prouder of that than my great success in show business," she said.

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