IMagination LIbrary SealAs adults, it’s rare that the mail brings us much of anything other than a handful of bills to be paid yet again this month. Maybe the occasional solicitation from the car dealership. But let’s face it, it’s usually bills.

Remember when we were kids, though, and something in the mail felt like Christmas time?

It was exciting! It was joyous! And once a month, our son gets that feeling, as a new book arrives in the mail, bringing a smile to his face and an “I can’t wait!” impatience to open it up, leaf through the pages and sit down with mommy and daddy and hear whatever this new tale is.

And you know who we have to thank for it? Dolly Parton. Yes. Dolly Parton. That Dolly Parton.

Because with her Imagination Library initiative, Dolly is making brand new books – some classics, some new hits – available to children everywhere whose parents sign them up.

I have no other way to describe it other than simply wonderful.

The first book we received (and I believe everyone who signs up receives) is the classic The Little Engine that Could. After that, once a month a book has shown up in our mailbox. Books that range from Ferdinand the Bull to Peanut Butter and Cupcake to the Gingerbread Man Loose on the Fire Truck.

Started in 1995, Dolly Parton launched the Imagination Library in her home county in East Tennessee as a way to encourage a love of reading in preschool children and families by providing them with a free, specially selected book each month. The hope was that mailing these books in the mail would get children excited about books and the magic within. What’s more, it was available to families and children regardless of the family income.

The initiative proved so popular that five years later, in 2000, it was announced that the program would be available with any community willing to partner with it and support it locally. Since then, according to the initiative’s website, the Imagination Library program has gone from delivering a few dozen books to more than 60 million books mailed to kids in the U.S., Canada, and United Kingdom.

What a truly wonderful thing.

Whether you want to take part in the program for your kid, or start one in your own community, the first thing to do is to head to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library website. From there, you can find if your community participates and whether you can sign up online or, as we had to, contact an organization in the community that acts as a mediary, receiving the books and then passing them along to you via the mail.

I can’t encourage the introduction of books to children enough or as early as possible. I’ve said time and time again how glad I am that we made it a point to start reading within the first few weeks of our son’s arrival, and some nights, even prior, reading to my wife’s pregnant belly. The same for our now five month old daughter.

Creating excitement about books, reading as a family, equating books with family, love, and fun fosters a curiosity, appreciation for and quest for knowledge that can carry through an entire lifetime.

Sign on up. You won’t regret it.

And thanks, Ms. Parton.

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