When describing a modern-day superhero, Dolly Parton fits the bill. From paying for students' band or choir uniforms to offering free college tuition for all Dollywood employees, the iconic musician stays busy with her numerous philanthropic efforts. Now, one of her most well-known projects, the Imagination Libary—which she started in 1995 to increase literacy in Sevier County—is coming to California in mid-2023. Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a partnership with The Dollywood Foundation, which will give all children under the age of 5 in California free access to books.
So far, the Imagination Library has gifted over 186 million books across the U.S., Canada, Australia, Ireland, and the UK; and with the passing of Senate Bill 1183, California will be the 15th state to join the program. This will make over 2.4 million children in California eligible to receive a free book in the mail every month.
“I’m so thrilled at the overwhelming support to make my Imagination Library available to every child in California!” Dolly says. “I want to thank Senator Shannon Grove and Senator Toni Atkins for inspiring tremendous support from California legislators and Governor Gavin Newsom for enthusiastically signing this bill. Today is an amazing milestone for children and families across the state! We still have a lot of work to do, but together we can inspire a love of reading in children across California that will last a lifetime.”
California children under five years of age will be able to start the program in June 2023. “Research shows that early reading offers numerous benefits for childhood development in the first five years of life,” the Imagination Library explains in an official statement. “Getting children excited about books and inspiring shared family reading time helps build language and memory skills, and sparks a child's imagination. Research demonstrates that young children who are exposed to books and who read early and often are better prepared for kindergarten and excel academically.” In particular, this program will help reach children who live in rural areas and communities with limited library access.
“Growing up with very little money in southwest Virginia, my parents taught me that books were my ticket to see the world,” Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins adds. “A deep love of reading and learning is the greatest gift they ever gave me—it is so special to be able to pass that onto children across California. And, to be able to do so in partnership with my friend, Senator Grove, and my country music idol, Dolly Parton, is just icing on the cake.”