Reading aloud to kids isn’t just fun – it could set your child up for success later in life. Kids whose parents read to them get an edge when it comes to learning to speak, bonding with their mom or dad, and making sense of the world. Sitting down with a copy of Make Way for Ducklings or Goodnight Moon might even help prevent aggression and hyperactivity and improve a child’s ability to pay attention, studies have found.
Most parents understand the value of reading aloud to kids — three-quarters started reading to their kids before they were a year old, Scholastic’s Kids & Family Reading Report found. But not all families have access to a wide variety of books. Kids living in households with an income of less than $35,000 a year only had half as many books as those living in homes with six-figure incomes.
Public libraries can help fill the gap, but they’re not always enough. Enter Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which mails free books to kids across the United States, Canada, and Australia.
How Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library works
One of my favorite nicknames is the “Book Lady”! I love reading and think it’s so important to help our littlest readers experience that same joy by taking a moment to read them a story! @imaginationlibrary
A post shared by Dolly Parton (@dollyparton) on
Back in 1995, Parton launched a monthly book giveaway in her hometown of Sevier County, Tennessee. The goal was to foster a love of reading in all preschool children. Soon, the program started to grow.
“Inspiring kids to love to read became my mission,” Parton has said. “In the beginning, my hope was simply to inspire the children in my home county but here we are today with a worldwide program that gives a book a month to well over 1 million children.
Today, Parton’s Imagination Library has mailed more than 112 million books to kids and families around the world. The organization coordinates book selections and mailing while local partners cover some of the cost of purchasing and shipping the books.
How to get free books for your child
Every month from birth to age five, Imagination Library sends a free, personalized book to each child enrolled in the program. There are no income requirements to participate, but because a local partner organization is required, the free books aren’t available in every community. To find out if your child is eligible to get free books, do a search on the Imagination Library website or use the map to find an affiliate in your area.
Once you find your local partner, you can complete a registration form. Some affiliates allow you to register online, but you may have to print out the form and mail it in or register in person. After your registration is complete, you should start receiving books.
If there’s no Imagination Library program in your community, you can work with the organization to launch one.
What books will my child receive from Dolly’s Imagination Library?
Dolly Parton | Kevin Winter/Getty Images
The first book that every child receives is The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. The last book sent is Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come! by Nancy Carlson. In between, kids receive books chosen by a team of experts in children’s literature that focus on the themes of inspiration and imagination.
This year’s books include The Snowy Day, The Gruffalo, Tale of Peter Rabbit, Llama, Llama Red Pajama, and Dolly’s own Coat of Many Colors.
Every book a child receives is designed to foster their love or reading – and prepare them for a world where literacy is essential. Parton recognized the importance of literacy after watching her own father struggle with being unable to read.
“If you can read, even if you can’t afford education, you can go on and learn about anything you want to know. There’s a book on everything,” she told NPR. “So I just think that it’s important for kids to be encouraged to read, to dream and to plan for a better life and better future.”
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