Imagination Library, a program originally developed by Dolly Parton's not-for-profit organization, is coming to the Quad Cities. United Way of the Quad Cities Area is sponsoring the program, which sends one book per month to children through age five. Books are chosen with skill levels specific to those ages.

Parton's initiative has helped more than 420,000 children gain access to books they otherwise might not have, said David Dotson, president of the Dollywood Foundation, at a press conference on June 11.

A 2003 High/Scope Educational Research Foundation study found that "between 66 and 75 percent of the recipient families read more to their children after they enrolled in the Imagination Library." The report went on to say that "the greatest effects were shown for families that needed literacy support the most: those with lower education levels, higher incidence of lone parents, and with lower total numbers of children's books," and that "a child's excitement about the arrival of books in the mail was strongly associated with parent reports of program effectiveness."

The Tennessee Board of Regents conducted a 2007 study of its state's Imagination Library program, which is partially run by the state government. (Roughly half the state's children participate in the program.) That study found that pre-kindergarteners and kindergarteners who receive Imagination Library books scored higher in reading, language, thinking, and social skills.

The Dollywood Foundation brings buying power to the program, having negotiated with book publishers to pay $2.60 for each book. Each child that signs up for the program will cost the United Way roughly $30 a year, according to Dotson.

United Way will rely on community financial support to keep the program alive.

"We're doing specific fundraising right now," said Scott Crane, president of the United Way of the Quad Cities Area. The organization is asking for corporate and individual donations, and is even reaching out to those who haven't donated to United Way in the past. "It's already beginning to generate some interest," he said.

Crane said that the program, free of charge to families, had made its way to more than 900 communities, including 160 this year alone. Crane had hoped that 1,000 Quad Cities children would have signed up by last week's press conference, but the total was over 3,000.

While the program started quietly on April 21, Crane said, United Way wanted to wait until its annual meeting on June 11 to make a public announcement. "We wanted to give it a little bit of momentum," he said. United Way expects 14,000 children to sign up in the next three to five years.

Each child starts with The Little Engine That Could and ends with Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come! Six to 10 bilingual books - in both English and Spanish - are usually chosen every year.

Jim Spelhaug, superintendent for the Pleasant Valley school system, said that this program will improve literacy. "Achieving that is not a function of the schools, but of the community," he said.

The United Way will work with social-service agencies, pediatricians, and child-care programs to publicize the program, and allows online registration at (

Support the River Cities' Reader

Help Keep the Reader Alive and Free Since '93!


"We're the River Cities' Reader, and we've kept the Quad Cities' only independently owned newspaper alive and free since 1993. Now we find our ability to continue providing all the features you love in serious jeopardy without the financial support of our readers.

So please help the Reader keep going with your one-time, monthly, or annual support. With your financial support the Reader can continue providing uncensored, non-scripted, and independent journalism alongside the Quad Cities' area's most comprehensive cultural coverage." - Todd McGreevy, Publisher