The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE), in partnership with Marshall University’s June Harless Center, recently welcomed American singer-songwriter, actress and early childhood literacy advocate Dolly Parton to the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences in Charleston. Her visit was a part of West Virginia’s celebration of the successful statewide coverage of her pre-eminent, book-gifting program, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Her Imagination Library is dedicated to inspiring a love of reading and learning, and now every child under the age of 5 in the state, is eligible to enroll for this free program.
Inspired by her father’s inability to read and write, Dolly Parton started her Imagination Library in 1995 to foster a love of reading for the children within her home county. Today, this global program mails more than 2 million high-quality, age-appropriate books each month directly to children’s homes – one book per month until a child’s fifth birthday – at no cost to families.
The evening, which aired and was streamed on West Virginia Public Broadcasting stations and social media platforms, featured remarks from Dr. Tarabeth Heineman, Executive Director of the June Harless Center, introductions and presentations by Gov. Jim Justice and State Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch, a performance by the Appalachian Children’s Chorus, and fireside chat with Marshall University President Brad D. Smith. Parton shared the story behind her love of reading and the creation of the Imagination Library.
“I am thrilled to share and celebrate that every child from birth to five in West Virginia is eligible to register for my Imagination Library,” said Dolly Parton. “Together, we can inspire children to dream more, care more, learn more and be more.”
The evening concluded with Parton singing “Coat of Many Colors” and “Try.”
Gov. Justice proclaimed Aug. 9 Dolly Parton Imagination Library Day during the event.
“I couldn’t be more honored to welcome Dolly Parton to West Virginia and to present her with this proclamation as a small token of our thanks for all she has done for the children of our state,” Gov. Justice said. “Dolly Parton is an American icon and a country music legend, but what really makes her special is how she has used her platform for the betterment of young children across the country and in West Virginia. By providing our kids access to so many wonderful books from the time that they are babies and all the way up to 5 years old, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program sparks a curiosity in our youngest West Virginians from the time they are born that is so valuable; inspiring a lifelong love of learning that will serve our kids well as they prepare to be our leaders of tomorrow.”
“Mrs. Parton promised years ago if we could bring all counties onboard, she would visit to celebrate with us and tonight she held true to her word,” said Superintendent Burch. “She embodies what we practice in public education every day and that is the importance of early childhood literacy because it is the foundation of academic achievement.”
As part of the event, Parton also presented Marshall University’s June Harless Center with an oversized copy of her book, “Coat of Many Colors.”
“The Imagination Library provides thousands of our children the opportunity to establish healthy reading habits and develop critical thinking skills that will be beneficial throughout their academic journey,” said Dr. Tarabeth Heineman.
The state’s Imagination Library program is a cornerstone of West Virginia’s early literacy efforts. It is rooted in the belief that having books in the homes of more than 46,000 registered children helps them develop literacy skills early in life. New worlds open up when a child is read to or begins reading for themselves.
West Virginia is one of 11 states in the country to boast full participation, meaning all 55 counties are fully active to serve the state’s youngest learners. This has resulted in more than 3 million books delivered to children in the Mountain State since 2007.
WVDE gifted Ms. Parton with a hand-crafted wooden state outline emblazoned with the Imagination Library seal created by students from the Nicholas County Technical Center.
West Virginia families may register for the Imagination Library by visiting the June Harless Center website.
Since launching in 1995, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has become the preeminent early childhood book-gifting program in the world. The flagship program of The Dollywood Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, has gifted well over 182 million free books in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and The Republic of Ireland. The impact of the program has been widely researched and results suggest positive increases in key early childhood literacy metrics. Penguin Random House is the exclusive publisher for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. For more information, please visit imaginationlibrary.com.