Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library offers free books to parents of newborns

Saturday, June 28, 2008 | 6:35 p.m. CDT; updated 4:24 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Ninety Columbia babies have received free books since Columbia began participating in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program two months ago, said Sarah Howard, Children and Youth Services Coordinator for the Daniel Boone Regional Library.

The Imagination Library gives a hardcover book each month to children in participating communities until he is 5 years old. A child can accumulate a total of 60 books. The program, which includes 432 communities in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, was started by country singer Dolly Parton in 2000 as a way to promote reading at a young age.

“It’s a really neat program,” said Angela Scott, whose son, Aiden, was born in April. “We just got our first book in the mail the other day. I think it’s a great way to build a child’s library collection.”

Columbia parent Jill Casteel, whose son, Maxwell, was born in March, was thrilled with the program.

“Once my child is old enough to realize that he’s going to get a book mailed to him every month, I think it will be a real treat for him and something he will look forward to each month,” Casteel said.

Columbia parents Julie and Denis Swope had heard about the program but did not fully understand the program’s potential for their daughter Mia, who was born June 21.

“My first reaction was, ‘Oh, how sweet! It’s such a nice gift.’ Then I was shocked to hear that we would be getting a free book every month for the next five years,” Julie Swope said.

On Thursday, Boone Hospital Center and Columbia Regional Hospital began giving parents of newborns copies of the first book, “The Little Engine that Could,” along with the registration materials, said Karen Taylor, president of the board for the Heart of Missouri United Way. Each copy of “The Little Engine that Could” includes a note from Columbia Public Library that encourages families to join the program as well as a printed note from Dolly Parton.

By Friday morning, Boone Hospital Center had distributed about six copies of the book and registration material to parents of newborns.

Marilyn Mottaz, birth certificate coordinator for Boone Hospital Center, said it makes a difference when parents can physically see the free book they are given as a way of joining the program instead of signing up on a form. Mottaz said the parents who received the books were grateful as well as shocked that the program is free and their children could receive free books in the mail.

Those who registered for the program in May should be receiving their first book in the mail soon, Howard said. All children born since Jan. 1, 2008, who live within the Columbia city limits are eligible. As the program progresses, children born each subsequent year will also be able to participate.

Organizers said the biggest push for the program right now is getting people aware and signed up.

“As the word gets out to parents and the community, hopefully more people will be interested in the program and want to be involved,” Howard said.

The program is mostly funded through the nationwide Imagination Library, which pays for the books to be purchased and shipped to children’s homes each month. The program has a partnership with the Penguin Group publishing company and gives Imagination Library a discount on books.

In Columbia, Friends of the Columbia Public Library finances the cost of “The Little Engine that Could.”

Each community involved in Imagination Library pays $30 per child each year,said Pam Hunsaker, regional director for the Dollywood Foundation. The money is being financed through individual donations and grants.

For the first year, Columbia budgeted for up to 800 children to participate in the program. In the next four years, Columbia’s Imagination Library will include children from newborn to 5 years old.

“The main issue right now is keeping the project sustained so that the program will financially be able to continue with each incoming group of children. We plan to do this through fundraising in the future,” Taylor said.

Overall, Taylor is pleased with how the program has been going so far and sees it as continuing to be successful in the future.

“It’s a wonderful thing we’re doing to think that we’re placing books into the hands of children,” Taylor said.

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