After declaring on Monday that education will be her “number one focus” during her second term, Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Wednesday that she will build Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library network statewide.
The Imagination Library sends an age-appropriate book to children from birth to 5 years old each month. The program is free. A list of available books can be found here.
“The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education will establish a statewide Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library network to develop, implement, promote and encourage a statewide initiative to encourage children from birth through age five to have a love to develop for reading,” Ivey wrote in her executive order. “The network will be used to provide monthly age-appropriate books to every child enrolled in the program from birth to their fifth birthday at home, free of charge for the families.”
A fall 2022 report by the Alabama State Department of Education reported that 63% of children were ready for kindergarten in terms of literacy and reading preparation.
Governor Ivey has previously been involved with Alabama literacy: In 2018, she founded the Alabama Campaign for Grade Level Reading, which focuses on helping children gain literacy skills. The campaign includes goals to help children in Alabama achieve grade-level literacy before they reach third grade.
Ivey also signed the Alabama Literacy Act into law in 2019, but it didn’t go into effect until 2021. Students are now supervised from kindergarten through third grade and take a state-approved test at the beginning, middle and end of each school year that measures their ability to read.
“Experts say third grade is a pivotal year for reading, as children cross the line from learning to read — exploring words, figuring out sentence structures — to reading to learning,” AL.com reporter Trish Crain wrote in 2021. ” By fourth grade, children should use these basic pieces learned in previous grades to gain knowledge of other subjects.
Alabama released its first school-level reading scores in 2022. The state made progress in reading instruction over the past year and in 2022 recorded an improvement in fourth-grade reading achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Parton originally started the program in 1995 in Sevier County, Tennessee.
It now operates in Australia, Canada, Ireland, the UK and the US. The program distributed more than 24 million books in 2022 and has issued 197,460,315 since its inception.
The topics of the books in the program are:
- Inspiration & Imagination
- love of reading and learning
- Respect for the diversity of people, their roles, culture and environment
- Promote self-esteem and self-confidence
- Appreciation of art and aesthetics
Parton said she created the Imagination Library as a tribute to her father, who could not read.
On her YouTube channel, Parton reads some of the books out loud.
Parents who do not wish to participate have the option to opt out of the program, Ivey’s order said.
Ivey’s order also states that the state Department of Early Childhood Education will use appropriate 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 approved $4.1 million to create the nationwide Imagination Library network. The department will work with local 501(c)(3) organizations that are raising funds for the local compliance requirement.
Parents wishing to attend can find their local Imagination Library organization by entering their zip code here.
The ordinance did not specify when the program will begin distributing books, though certain parts of the state have already launched their own local partnerships.