The father of country music artist Dolly Parton could not read or write.

“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,” Parton said on Imagination Library’s website.

Inspiring children to love to read became her mission. In 1995, she launched a childhood literacy effort, called Imagination Library.

“Before he passed away, my Daddy told me the Imagination Library was probably the most important thing I had ever done. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me because I created the Imagination Library as a tribute to my Daddy,” she said.

The program gifts books each month at no cost to children from birth to age five. Today, Imagination Library spans five countries and gifts over one million books on a monthly basis.

A new state law will allow Missouri to offer this program statewide by partnering with Imagination Library to share the cost. It designates at least $5 million in state funding annually to put toward the effort.

Pam Thomas, the assistant commissioner in the Missouri Office of Childhood, said Imagination Library is part of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s priority for early learning and early literacy.

“This project will help us get books in the hands of families,” she said. “Getting books in the hands of infants and toddlers and preschoolers at a young age is directly connected to their readiness to read.”

About 450,000 Missouri kids could sign up to get books each month.

“We know it’s not just the access to words, affirmations and familiarity with reading,” she said. “Putting a book in the hands of children helps them orientate themselves to reading. Holding a book, turning the page, those types of motor skills and tactile skills that you have in reading, as well as that opportunity for families to connect and have a positive engagement with their child and build that social and language skill that you get from reading.”

The rollout is expected to begin next summer.

“We’ll be looking to some of our community leaders, some of our nonprofit programs in local communities in every county throughout the state, school districts, our parent education program and other early childhood programs who are reaching families. We’ll be looking at them to help us get the word out and to direct families to the website to sign up,” said Thomas.

The Dollywood Foundation selects the books and sends them directly to the children.

For more information about Imagination Library, click here.

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