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Dolly Parton's Imagination Library arrives in North Carolina to mail free books to young children

Registration is open for families across Wake County, Johnston County and North Carolina to sign up for free books for their kids.

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Dolly Parton's Imagintion Library comes to North Carolina
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
, Go Ask Mom editor

Thanks, in part, to Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, young children across North Carolina, including Wake, Orange and Johnston counties, can begin receiving a free book each month in the mail.

The program is designed for children from birth to their fifth birthday. Parton, the country music superstar and icon, launched the program in 1995 to help the children in her home county in East Tennessee. The program now reaches children in four countries and delivers 1 million free books each month, according to its website.

"When I was growing up in the hills of East Tennessee, I knew my dreams would come true. I know there are children in your community with their own dreams. They dream of becoming a doctor or an inventor or a minister. Who knows, maybe there is a little girl whose dream is to be a writer and singer," Parton says on her website. "The seeds of these dreams are often found in books and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world.”

In North Carolina, the program is paid for thanks to funding from the North Carolina General Assembly. In June, lawmakers approved $3.5 million for the first year of the program and $7 million for the second year. Smart Start agencies in North Carolina are administering the program in each county.

In Wake County, for instance, Wake County Smart Start will receive $51,000 each year to bring the program to local kids. The goal is to reach 20,000 children in Wake County by June and another 20,000 by June 2019, said Elizabeth Weichel, Wake County Smart Start communications coordinator. Local agencies also will be seeking more donations to support and expand the program.

"I'm so excited to join Smart Start to expand my Imagination Library across the state," Parton said in a press release when the General Assembly approved the program. "Welcome aboard, North Carolina - let's give these dreams some wings."

Here's how the program works: Parents can simply sign up their children to begin receiving a free book in the mail each month. Each child will receive "The Little Engine That Could," a favorite for Parton. After that, the books sent will depend on the child's age.

The goal is to make sure that there are books in the homes of every single child in North Carolina. Research regularly shows that reading to young children can help them in school and life by building fundamental skills, boosting attention spans and focus and leading to higher grades in school. Right now, 32 percent of Wake County third graders aren't reading at grade level. Leaders hope to reduce that number by encouraging parents to read to their children - and giving them the books to do it.

Kids age 5 and younger are eligible for the program. A child's application must be received at least 10 weeks before child’s fifth birthday so that books can be delivered before the child turns 5. There are no income requirements to participate. Any family can sign up.

For more information, check the Smart Start agency where you live. Wake County Smart Start recently posted its online registration and more information. The Partnership for Johnston County also has information online for families in Johnston County. For all other North Carolina counties, the Imagination Library's website has links and contact information where you can get more details.


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