Alabama partners with Dolly Parton Imagination Library to mail free books to children

By Sarah Swetlik | Read the original article on

After proclaiming education will be her “number one focus” during her second term in office on Monday, Gov. Kay Ivey announced Wednesday that she will establish Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library network throughout the state.

The Imagination Library mails an age-appropriate book to children from birth to age 5 every month. The program is free. A list of available books can be found here.

“The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education shall establish a statewide Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library network for the purpose of developing, implementing, promoting, and fostering a statewide initiative for encouraging children from birth to age five years to develop a love of reading,” Ivey wrote in her executive order. “The network shall be used to provide age-appropriate books on a monthly basis, at home, to each child registered in the program from birth to their fifth birthday, at no cost to the families.”

A fall 2022 report from the Alabama State Department of Education reported 63% of kids were ready for kindergarten in terms of literacy and reading preparation.

Gov. Ivey has addressed literacy in Alabama previously: in 2018, she established the Alabama Campaign for Grade Level Reading, which focuses on helping children achieve reading proficiency. The campaign includes goals to help Alabama kids reach grade-level literacy before they reach third grade.

Ivey also signed the Alabama Literacy Act into law in 2019, though it did not go into effect until 2021. Students are now monitored from kindergarten to third grade and take a state-approved test measuring their reading ability at the beginning, middle and end of each school year.

“Experts say third grade is a critical year for reading, where children cross the line from learning to read — sounding out words, figuring out sentence structure — to reading to learn,” reporter Trish Crain wrote in 2021. “By fourth grade, children should be using those foundational pieces learned in the previous grades to gain knowledge of other subjects.”

Alabama released its first school-level reading scores in 2022. The state made gains in reading instruction last year and saw improvement in fourth-grade reading levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2022.

Parton initially launched the program in 1995 in Sevier County, Tennessee.

Now, it operates in Australia, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the U.S. The program distributed more than 24 million books in 2022 and has given 197,460,315 since it first launched.

The themes of the books in the program are:

  • Inspiration & Imagination
  • Love of reading and learning
  • Regard for diversity of people, their roles, culture, and environment
  • Promotion of self-esteem and confidence
  • Appreciation of art and aesthetics

Parton has said she created the Imagination Library as a tribute to her father, who was unable to read.

On her YouTube channel, Parton reads some of the books aloud.

Parents who do not want to participate will have the opportunity to opt-out of the program, Ivey’s executive order stated.

Ivey’s order also stated that the state Department of Early Childhood Education will use appropriated funds to “provide grants to qualified local entities that agree to a dollar-for-dollar match for the purpose of the program.”

In November, Ivey authorized $4.1 million for the creation of the statewide Imagination Library network. The department will work with local 501(c)(3) organizations, who will fundraise for the local match requirement.

Parents who want to participate can find their local Imagination Library organization by entering their zip code here.

The order did not state when the program will begin distributing books, though certain parts of the state have already launched local partnerships of their own.