The state is partnering with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to mail new books to Illinois children in low-income families. The Dollywood Foundation pays for the books, while state and education partners provide the shipping costs. In Chicago, the official partner is nonprofit Open Books. The program is still in the process of rolling out statewide, but some communities are already eligible.
“The more that kids are exposed to books by age 5, the more likely they are to succeed in school, to graduate high school and to complete college,” said Open Books’ Eric Johnson. “The program was designed and inspired by Dolly from her own personal experience — her father was illiterate. This is something that she names, and she saw an opportunity with all of the capital that she brings to set this program up so that kids receive one free book mailed to their home every month, as early as 1 month old until they turn 5 years old.”
“I serve the 24th House district that’s entirely within the city of Chicago, and it includes the neighborhoods of Chinatown, Pilsen, Bridgeport, McKinley Park, Brighton Park and Back of the Yards,” said state Rep. Theresa Mah (D-Chicago). “So it’s majority immigrant, majority Latino and about 25% Asian immigrants and their families. I represent lots of families that are on the lower end of the income scale, and I would like them to have the opportunity to provide books for their kids and not have to worry about impinging on their household budget.”
Johnson said with burgeoning populations of children whose families speak primarily Spanish at home, the Dollywood Foundation is reviewing its book selections to include a wider diversity of languages and subjects.
“There’s a committee of librarians and early childhood educators that curates the book selection,” Johnson said. “They’re recognizing more and more the dense populations that are Spanish-speaking and responding accordingly. In the four years that we’ve been doing this, the diversity of books has gotten richer and deeper.”
Parents can determine whether their children are eligible to receive books at the Imagination Library website.