Dolly Parton started the Imagination Library program in 1996 in Siever County, her home county in East Tennessee. She wanted the children of Siever County to be exposed to books and develop a love of reading because her father never learned to read. Moreover, she wanted to ensure that every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income. She took the program to the Governor of Tennessee, then-Governor Phil Bredesen, who agreed to make the program available to all under age five children across the State of Tennessee. Governor Bredesen established a foundation, Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation, that would administer the program across the state and provide one-half of the cost of the books. The individual counties in Tennessee would provide the other one-half of the cost. The Foundation was designed to support the program for perpetuity – regardless of who was in the Governor’s chair. Both Governors Haslem and Lee have embraced the program.
The Dollywood Foundation established a Blue Ribbon Committee of experts to select the books and secured Penguin Group USA to be the exclusive publisher for the Imagination Library. In addition, the Foundation built a database for the program. Each month, every under age 5 child registered in the Imagination Library receives in the mail an age-appropriate book. The child’s first book is “The Little Engine That Could.” The book delivery continues every month until the child turns 5 and graduates out of the program receiving the last book “Look Out Kindergarten Here I Come”.
In September 2005, a group of volunteers from across Wilson County replicated the Imagination Library in Wilson County as Wilson Books from Birth under the Lebanon Wilson County Chamber of Commerce’s 501 (c) (3) – Wilson County Business and Education Coalition. Thus, the Imagination Library program in Wilson County is a 3-way partnership – Dollywood Foundation, the Governor’s Foundation (now known as the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation), and Wilson Books from Birth.
Since 2005, the Imagination Library program has grown in Wilson County. Based on the 2010 census there are 7,300 under age five children in the County. The current monthly registration averages 5,900 children and over 15,000 children have graduated out of the program since 2005. But while serving these children, Wilson Books from Birth has actually touched the entire family of each of the children – parents and siblings.
Parents can register their children online at imaginationlibrary.com or by completing paper registration forms which are available at all three Wilson County libraries and at the Lebanon Wilson County Chamber of Commerce. In addition, both Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital and Summit Hospital register children before they leave the hospital.
Reading is the key to a strong education and imagination is the center of a child’s dreams and creativity. Dolly Parton combined the two – READING AND IMAGINATION. The Imagination Library can inspire children to DREAM MORE, LEARN MORE, CARE MORE, AND most of all BE MORE!
Everyone knows strong reading and literacy skills are important. They are necessary to excel in school and in life. The thought is that a child acquires such skills along the way when the child enters the school system. But the process of equipping children with these skills begins as soon as a child is born – education begins at birth. A child learns from birth. Studies show that 80% of a child’s brain develops by age 3. So, this is a critical window of opportunity for learning and it is important to reach children at this early age. Exposing children to books at birth. Exposing them to hearing words read from a page. There is an important connection between adult-child reading – vocabulary development.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a book gifting program that mails free books to children from birth to age five in participating communities within the United States, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Canada, and Australia.