In general, I don’t like meetings, although I realize that they sometimes are necessary. Often, meetings are boring. Even productive meetings take me away from work that I’d rather be doing.

But there’s one meeting I truly look forward to each year—the annual meeting of the Book Committee for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. For the past 15 years, a small group of educators (plus me as an author) has gathered at the office of the Dollywood Foundation in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to select the books that will be represented in the library for the coming year.

Dolly Parton founded the Imagination Library in 1995 as a way to give back to the community. Born into relative poverty in the mountains of Tennessee, Dolly credits reading with helping her see the wider world and imagine her place in it. When she became wealthy, she vowed to give other children that same opportunity. She founded the Imagination Library to provide each child born in Sevier County, Tennessee, with a book a month from birth to the age of five. Thus, every child in the county has a personal library of 60 books by the time he or she enters kindergarten.

As word of the program spread, other communities wanted to get involved. As wealthy and generous as Dolly is, she couldn’t provide books for every child in every community that inquired. So beginning in 2000 the Dollywood Foundation began making the model available and offering the economy of scale for programs to get books at a tremendous discount from Penguin Random House, which supplies all of the titles for the program. Communities fund the program through United Way, corporate support, state or local governmental funding, or other sources. In 2000, the Dollywood Foundation also established the Book Selection Committee to choose the books for the Imagination Library.

Twenty years after its inception, the Imagination Library program now operates in more than 1,600 local communities across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Later this year, the program will distribute its 70 millionth book! What a gift to children around the world!

I am proud to be able to contribute in some way to the Imagination Library. Besides, for an author and bibliophile, what could possibly be more fun than spending two full days poring over piles of outstanding children’s books and discussing their relative merits with other book lovers? No wonder I look forward to my annual trip to Tennessee.

Click here to learn more about the Imagination Library.

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