Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to provide free children’s books

By Jason Hawk -

Buying books for every young child countywide is no cheap proposition.

It’s a $200,000 per year idea that OberlinKids is pursuing in hopes of improving literacy for kindergarten-bound students.

Coordinator Jenn Keathley made a pitch to the Oberlin board of education Tuesday, asking it to make a $5,000 pledge toward the effort.

Through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, OberlinKids wants to send one age-appropriate book per month to each child up to age five in Lorain County.

Just within our city, that’s more than 2,400 books each year.

Parton is known for country hits such as “Jolene,” “9 to 5,” “Islands in the Stream,” and “I Will Always Love You.” She grew up with illiterate parents and when she became a songwriter they were incredibly proud Dolly could read and write.

In 1995, she launched the Imagination Library to foster a love of reading among preschool children. It aimed to ensure that every home would have quality books, regardless of family income.

By 2000, Parton offered to let all communities use the program with local funding. Today, more than 80 million books have been mailed to children in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Keathley said she wants to enroll more than 10,000 kids in the Imagination Library in the next five years.

The Stocker Foundation at Lorain County Community College is the lead partner, providing $100,000 to launch the local effort on July 1. It has committed to a total of $400,000 through 2023.

Keathley plans to approach school boards throughout the entire county, asking for financial backing. The Oberlin board has not made a decision yet.

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By Jason Hawk