This year the Salida Sunrise and Buena Vista Rotary Clubs are celebrating five years of sponsoring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which sends a free book to each registered child from birth until they turn five years old.
To date, more than 30,000 books have been mailed to more than 1,150 children here. Currently, there are about 500 children registered in Chaffee County. The program costs sponsors about $25 per child per year.
The Imagination Library serves youngsters in the U.S., UK, Australia, Canada and Ireland. As of August, more than 143 million books have been mailed out since the program’s 1995 inception. It also includes bilingual books, audiobooks, and texts in Braille.
Starting with “The Little Engine That Could” and concluding with “Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come,” the program originated in the country music superstar’s home of Sevier County, Tenn. Parton had been moved by her father’s illiteracy, and having grown up in poverty with 11 brothers and sisters, she didn’t have any books to herself. The Bible was the main source of reading in the household.
“My Dad didn’t get the chance to go to school,” said Parton in a 2018 NPR interview. “And Daddy couldn’t read and write, and that was kind of crippling to him. He was such a smart man, though. He just had such good common sense. They call it horse sense in the country.”
“But Daddy thought it was just something he couldn’t learn after he was grown, so he never tried to learn to read and write. And that was just kind of embarrassing to him,” said Parton.
She involved her father in the project and he was able to see its success before he died in 2000.
“He got to hear the kids call me ‘The Book Lady.’ He got a big kick out of that,” she said.
According to the Rotary clubs, the program has been extremely well received in Chaffee County. Last fall, an online survey of participating families showed that 97 percent felt their children were building better literacy skills. All of the responders said the program provided some benefit, with 90 percent saying the benefit was significant. Parents said they liked the books, their diversity, and quality.
The program promotes and encourages a love of reading and helps ensure that children enter kindergarten with a strong ability to read and an eagerness to learn. It also promotes parent-child interaction and bonding. If a child is registered at birth and remains in the program until he or she turns five, the child will accumulate 60 high quality books.
The value of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is well recognized across Colorado. Governor Polis recently signed Senate Bill 20-185, which establishes the Colorado Imagination Library program and the creation of a statewide organization that will focus on promoting, growing, and sustaining local affiliate programs across Colorado. While some communities are now seeking sponsors for this program, the Rotary Clubs report they are “thrilled that we have five years of success with this program in Chaffee County.”
Parents can register online themselves at https://imaginationlibrary.com/usa/ or they can get a registration form online on the Salida Sunrise Rotary Club website (salidasunriserotary.org) and then email or mail it into the appropriate address (Salida or BV). Or they can pick up a registration form at either the Salida Regional Library or the Buena Vista Public Library in their children’s area and mail it to the appropriate address.