Dolly Parton knows how important reading is for young minds and in 1995 she did something about it.
Inspired by her father, she created the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which mails free books to children from birth to age five in participating communities.
Now the program will be available to children in the 48201 and 48202 ZIP codes in Midtown thanks to the Wayne State University Library System, which is working with the Imagination Library.
“Before he passed away, my Daddy told me the Imagination Library was probably the most important thing I had ever done,” Parton says on the library’s website. “I can’t tell you how much that meant to me because I created the Imagination Library as a tribute to my Daddy. He was the smartest man I have ever known but I know in my heart his inability to read probably kept him from fulfilling all of his dreams.”
The program will provide every child with access to free, age-appropriate books delivered directly to their homes. The books arrive by mail — often the first mail a child receives — every month from birth until the child turns 5. Each book is brand new and carefully selected by a panel of experts on childhood literacy and early education.
The libraries will hold a real-time virtual read-a-thon event on YouTube from June 26 through June 30, where Wayne State students, faculty and librarians will read children’s books and encourage participants to sign up for the program. For those unable to attend the event, sign up is available at any time at Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library’s website.
“We want to help support early literacy in our Wayne State community by getting books into the hands of kids who may not have easy access,” says Betty Adams, chair of the Wayne State chapter of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. “Research shows that reading to kids has a huge impact on developing language and vocabulary. By the age of 5, kids who have never been read to have only heard around 4,600 words. Kids who are read to every day have heard almost 300,000.”
These kinds of program are essential in Detroit. A large part of the city is covered by book deserts — neighborhoods with no bookstores and few books available for purchase anywhere else. Research shows that, in middle-income neighborhoods, the average home contains 13 books per child. Low-income neighborhoods contain a single book for every 300 kids.
Since launching in 1995, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has become the premier early childhood book-gifting program in the world by mailing more than 90 million free books in Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and the United States. Currently, the program mails more than 1 million specially selected, age-appropriate books monthly to registered children from birth to age 5. Parton’s vision was to create a lifelong love of reading, prepare children for school and inspire them to dream.
Recent studies suggest participation in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is positively and significantly associated with higher measures of early language and math development. Penguin Random House is the exclusive publisher for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.