Felkins: Celebrate good times — it's Imagination Library Week

September 23, 2015

Reposted from The Lebanon Democrat September 19, 2015.

Column by Jared Felkins, editor of The Democrat.

It’s Imagination Library Week, one of my favorite weeks of the year. It’s for good reason, too, since we’re pretty big fans of reading around here. All kidding aside, reading is the foundation for learning. It’s basically the basis for most everything we do. And it’s becoming increasingly important to start good reading habits at an early age. 

If you’re not familiar with Imagination Library – I know I wasn’t when I moved here three years ago – Dolly Parton started the program in 1996 as a gift to the children in her hometown of Sevierville. Enrolled children, from birth until age 5, receive one new, high-quality, age-appropriate book every month at no cost to families and regardless of income.

In 2004, the non-partisan, nonprofit Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation was created to partner with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Its mission is to support the ongoing, statewide operation of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. With funding support from the Tennessee General Assembly, foundations, individual donors and corporations, the GBBF matches all funds raised by each county’s Imagination Library affiliate – a public-private partnership unique to Tennessee. Tennessee is the only state to have the Imagination Library program in every one of its counties.

In September 2005, a group of volunteers from across Wilson County replicated the Imagination Library in Wilson County as Wilson Books from Birth under Wilson Business and Education Coalition, Inc. – a tax-exempt entity of the Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce.  

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Wilson Books from Birth. Since 2005, more than 13,000 children have received the gift of free books and more than 467,000 books were mailed to Wilson County children. 

Currently, 5,300 children under 5 are enrolled in the program.     

That’s pretty impressive. 

About two weeks ago, I got the email I was waiting for from Wilson Books from Birth director Peggy Simpson. Since I’ve been here, I’ve pressed Simpson to give us as many reading assignments as possible. This year, we received four pre-kindergarten classes to visit.

Fellow newsroom greats Xavier Smith, Andy Reed and Kimberly Jordan jumped at the opportunity to share stories with Wilson County’s youngest students. 

My assignment was reading to two pre-kindergarten classes at Friendship Christian School. Even though I had a plethora of books from which to choose, I went with the old standby Dr. Seuss classic, “Oh the Places You’ll Go.” It was a hit, and the young students were excellent. 

It was a lot of fun, and I think the children had a good time, too. 

So just how important is reading to children?

“Numerous studies validate that early reading aloud to children has a lasting impact and we encourage parents to read to their child,” Simpson said. “This exposure can help children become more aware of other ideas, experiences and people than just in their environment. It can foster imagination and hope.”

Here’s another take that validates its importance.

“The Imagination Library is a paramount resource for students and families in our district and across the state,” said Penny Thompson, Lebanon Special School District instructional coordinator and pre-kindergarten director. “Because this organization supplies free books to families, we know that parents are able to read to children daily which builds early reading foundational skills that are essential for literacy.

Lebanon Special School District is a big supporter of Imagination Library and the work of Wilson County Books From Birth.” 

Simpson said guest readers visited more than 27 classrooms during Imagination Library Week. 

“We are excited to take the program to the children and read aloud to them,” Simpson said.

The Democrat staff takes pride in its involvement in Imagination Library Week each year. It’s become a tradition I hope continues for many years to come.   

Just think, if someone hadn’t taken the time to teach you how to read, it would be awfully difficult to enjoy this column each week. 

To learn how to support Wilson Books from Birth or for information about how to enroll a child in the Imagination Library program, visit wilsonbooksfrombirth.com or call 615-444-5586.  

Jared Felkins is editor of The Democrat. Email him at jfelkins@lebanondemocrat.com and follow him on Twitter @paperboyfelkins.