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First Lady Champions Imagination Library Program in East Tennessee

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 | 07:43am

Travels throughout East Tennessee with Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation President Theresa Carl 
NASHVILLE, Tenn. August 14, 2012 – First Lady Crissy Haslam met with volunteers and stakeholders of the Jefferson County Imagination Library today to promote the vaunted books-for-children program and praise the people behind its success. Mrs. Haslam was joined by Theresa Carl, president of the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF), the organization responsible for sustaining and growing Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Tennessee. At a luncheon held at the Jefferson County Historical Courthouse in Dandridge today, the pair spoke with community stakeholders about the importance for families to make time for reading with young children.

“The Imagination Library is one of the best programs we have to encourage early literacy in our state,” said Mrs. Haslam. “We need all Tennessee students reading on grade level by the end of the third grade to help ensure the bright futures they deserve, so it is important to encourage literacy beginning at birth.”

Founded in 1996 as a gift to the children of her hometown of Sevierville, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library helps children develop a love for reading and learning from birth. Tennessee’s statewide Imagination Library mails a new, age-appropriate, high-quality book every month to registered children, from birth until age five – at no cost to the family and regardless of income. All 407,000 of the state’s children under age five have access to the Imagination Library. To date, over 15 million books have been delivered since the program began in October 2004.

“Tennessee is fortunate to have the Imagination Library as a unique resource to prepare children for a bright future,” said Mrs. Haslam. “Children who participate in the program are better prepared for school and have better-developed skills in reading, speaking, thinking, and social skills. Reading—by itself—is not a magic key to change. It is what reading enables us to learn and to do that is critical.”

Mrs. Haslam has participated in other events throughout the state this summer to encourage participation in both the Imagination Library program and her READ20 Family Book Club – an initiative that highlights the importance of reading and parental engagement in children’s academic lives by encouraging Tennessee families to read together for at least 20 minutes each day. She has visited minor-league baseball games and military bases, among other events, to raise awareness and fuel interest in the READ 20 initiative. For the month of August, she will be traveling to some of Tennessee’s more rural communities to highlight the importance of reading proficiency to academic success.

“With her READ20 Family Book Club and Neighborhood Knocks initiative, the First Lady has traveled across the state encouraging families to read together and parents to get involved in their children’s education,” said Ms. Carl. “The Imagination Library is a wonderful resource to help parents do just that, from the very day a child is born.”

Among U.S. states with active Imagination Library programs, Tennessee stands alone as the only state with participation in every one of its 95 counties. The GBBF works to increase enrollment in the program, estimating that close to 200,000 eligible children (age five and under) are not yet registered.

“We’re working diligently to continue spreading the word about this amazing program, which is a gift of up to 60 brand new books for every child in the state of Tennessee, from birth until age five – all at no cost to families,” said Ms. Carl. “With the hard work and dedication of volunteers like those in Jefferson County, we can all be part of equipping a generation of kids with the tools they’ll need to excel and achieve from the first day of school.”

Currently, 44 percent of Tennessee third graders are reading on grade level. Children who have not developed some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out later.

In a recent study conducted by the Urban Child Institute, research showed that programs like the Imagination Library lead to early childhood language development, school readiness, grade progression, on-time graduation and college attendance.

For more information about the READ20 Family Book Club visit,, follow @Read20TN on Twitter, or go to your local public library.

About the GBBF:  The mission of the Governor's Books from Birth Foundation is to sustain and strengthen Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program in all 95 Tennessee counties, ensuring that new, age-appropriate books are mailed to Tennessee’s preschool children, at no cost to the family and regardless of income. To learn how to support your county’s Imagination Library program, or for information on how to register a child, visit,, or call toll-free at 1-877-99-BOOKS.


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