Country music superstar Dolly Parton is best known for her string of hits and super-star media presence, but the singer has been reaching out to another audience these days: a quarter of a million children from the day they are born until the time they enter kindergarten. This year, 2006, marks ten years since Parton launched her Imagination Library in her home of Sevier County, Tennessee. Parton wanted to give back to her community by setting up a foundation that provided children with a free book each month until they entered elementary school. The program was an astounding success and has since blossomed into a nationwide effort that has given away hundreds of thousands of books.
The program works like this: A geographic community, be it a state, a county, or even a zip code, signs up, then find sponsors that are willing to underwrite the expenses of about $27 per child each year to cover books and mailing costs. This program must be open to every child under the age of five in the participating community. By the time a child begins kindergarten, she or he may have a library of 60 books. Parents never pay a single penny.
The first book every child receives is Parton's favorite childhood story, The Little Engine That Could. With the assistance of Penguin Publishing, children then receive age-appropriate books: vision and touch books for infants, motor skill and nursery rhyme books for 2-year-olds, emotional conflict books for 3-year-olds, complex storylines and books that deal with diversity issues for 4-year-olds, and school preparation books for 5-year-olds. New titles are introduced each year so younger siblings do not receive the same titles as their older siblings. The Imagination Library also provides bilingual books.
In 2003, the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation conducted a national study showing that 66 to 75% of families involved in the program read more to their children after they enrolled in it. Odalys Sylva heads the Imagination Library for the town of Miami Lakes in South Florida, and she champions its merits, citing how easy and inexpensive the program is to implement, and how supportive parents and teachers are. If you would like to spearhead the effort to bring the Imagination Library to your community visit http://www.imaginationlibrary.com. It's a Little Engine that can--and does.
Copyright 2006© Horacio Sierra
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