Each spring for the past 15 years, I have had the honor and privilege of traveling to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to participate in book selection for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. It’s my favorite meeting, and I look forward to it each year.
Dolly Parton initially founded the Imagination Library as a way to benefit the children of Sevier County, Tennessee, where she grew up. She credited reading with helping her envision the wider world beyond her isolated mountain home. Through her generosity, every child in the county receives a book a month from the time they are born until their fifth birthday. This means that each child enters kindergarten owning a personal library of 60 books.
Over time, other communities wanted to implement the program. Funded by state or local governments, local United Ways, banks, and other donors, the program now operates in hundreds of communities throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Operated by the nonprofit Dollywood Foundation and using books published by Penguin/Random House (which has both a rich collection of classic titles and a broad selection of new books each year), the program now distributes more than a million books every month. It is poised to distribute its 100 millionth book early in 2018!
For three days each May, the Book Selection Committee meets to choose the books that will be included in the program for the next year. We read and discuss roughly 100 new books and debate which might replace books that are currently in the program. Always, we keep in mind factors such as the developmental stages of the recipients, racial and gender diversity, and which books we believe will truly stimulate the imaginations of young readers.
Getting together with the other members of the Book Selection Committee is like meeting old friends from camp for an annual reunion. And exploring so many great children’s books is an energizing experience. The staff of the Dollywood Foundation provides wonderful hospitality. Some years, if she’s in town, Dolly even stops by to greet us. She takes great pride in the Imagination Library and the impact it has on children’s lives.
To learn more about the Imagination Library, visit the project’s website. As for me, I’m already looking forward to the 2018 meeting!