Dolly Parton Sends Free Books for Children until their 5th Birthday through Her Program Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

In today’s world when books are becoming a thing of the past, Dolly Parton has started an amazing program to keep books alive. Parton, the legendary singer and songwriter of America, is performing an important role as  “The Book Lady.” In this remarkable role, she has taken up the responsibility to send free books to kids. She is doing this in memory of her father and aims to spark the love of reading among young children. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is the name of her charity.

Dolly Parton started the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in 1995. The program mails out a free book each month for children from birth until they are five years old. The books are chosen by experts in the education and writing field and are age appropriate for the child.

Dolly Parton and Dolly Parton's Imagination Library
Dolly Parton and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Image Credit: Eva Rinaldi via Flickr, Facebook

Dolly Parton started her program, the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, in 1995. Her primary goal was to benefit kids of her home county in the United States and particularly in eastern Tennessee. Since the popularity of books was being overtaken by electronic devices, Parton wanted to rekindle the love of book reading among kids. In her program, each child is provided with a book each month for free. The books are all high quality and are chosen by a panel of child education and learning experts. The books are selected depending on the age of the children and are delivered directly to their homes. Parton hopes that by receiving books every month, kids will slowly develop the habit of reading. They will get to witness the magic of books. And by making the books free, she wanted to ensure that no child would be deprived of reading, no matter their family income.

Parton grew up in a house with only the Bible. Her hard-working father, who never had the chance for education, was her inspiration. “I thought, well, I’m gonna do this: to get books in the hands of children, because if you can read, you can educate yourself,” Parton told in a CNBC interview in 2016.

Since its inception in 1995, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has reached new heights. In 2004, it was launched nationwide allowing more and more communities to adopt the program. Moreover, the program expanded to other countries as well. Canada adopted the program in 2006, the United Kingdom in 2007, and Australia in 2014.

The books children receive are an amalgamation of classic and contemporary fiction and non-fiction stories. Each book is based on a special theme that helps the cognitive development of a child.

Knox County Public Library
Dolly Parton with Kids. Image Credit: Knox County Public Library

Every year, a special panel of childhood literacy experts reviews hundreds of potential books that could be included in the program. The panel differs from country to country. For selecting books in the USA and Canada, Blue Ribbon Book Selection Committee is responsible. In the United Kingdom, the Gold Medal Book Selection Committee performs the task of shortlisting the books. Australia, on the other hand, has a Cradle to Career education strategy called ReadLearnSucceed (RLS). The RLS forms a committee to pick out the books for the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

The committee aims at including books that help in the overall development of a child. The experts chose the books to meet different needs of kids as they progress from birth to the age of five. Some of the books help kids to become school-ready, while others are pure entertainment. The committee ensures that there is a perfect balance between educational content and fiction. Studies conducted have shown that kids who are part of the Imagination Library exhibit faster, early language and math development.

The Imagination Library takes care of all the steps involved in the process of donating the books. They manage the central database for the Book Order System and coordinate book selections and wholesale purchasing. They also take care of the cost of the program’s administrative expenses and coordinates the monthly mailings.

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program selects and ships age-appropriate books. Image Credit: My First Books

The Imagination Library is supported by local organizations and individuals who want to volunteer in helping the children of their community to read. These local organizations are known as “Local Champions.” They can either be a business, school, or an individual. The primary role of a Local Champion is to enroll children in the age group of newborn to five years old in their community or designated area. They need to contribute $2.10 per child per month for the wholesale books. They also have to drive the program in their locality to gain more traction and funding.

Once the Local Champions have registered the kids, the data goes into the Book Order System managed by the Imagination Library. The Imagination Library then places orders for the books selected by their expert panel. They cover all the overhead and administrative costs with no additional expenses to the Local Champions. The Imagination Library takes care of all the backhand steps from ordering the books to delivering.

On February 2018, the foundation handed out its 100-millionth free book.

Dolly Parton reads Coat of Many Colors, a children’s book based on one of her signature songs, to a group of children at the Great Hall of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Image Credit: Shawn Miller/Library of Congress via National Public Radio

In 1995, the first book order was only for 1,700 books. But today, the program ships more than one million books per month to children globally. Parton says that her books have been inspiring children to “Dream More, Learn More, Care More, and Be More.”

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library embarked upon a major milestone in February 2018. They handed out their 100-millionth free book.

The book was a copy of Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors. The Library of Congress in Washington DC received the book as a donation.  Parton has set up a partnership with the Library of Congress to live-stream story readings.
[source: 1, 2]

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