Celebrating 15 Years and 35+ Million Books

Literacy looks like books.
Books look like the Imagination Library.
Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation and TN’s Imagination Library look like…

As we celebrate the 15th anniversary of Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF), we also celebrate 15 years of early literacy and spreading a love of reading! At this 15-year milestone, let’s pause to take a look at the story of GBBF and its legacy in Tennessee, partnering to sustain Tennessee’s Imagination Library since 2004.

The Story of GBBF

Promoting early childhood literacy in Tennessee

The mission of Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF) is to promote early childhood literacy in Tennessee’s birth to age five population. In 2004, former Gov. Phil Bredesen established GBBF to provide financial and administrative support for affiliate Imagination Library programs in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties, expanding the program statewide. GBBF has continued to sustain the statewide Imagination Library program since its inception in 2004, while promoting early childhood literacy through additional initiatives such as Tennessee State Park Imagination Library Storybook Trails and Summer Mobile Literacy Units.

Meet the GBBF Team

The GBBF team includes James Pond, President; Dean Hoskins, Vice President; Linda Kirpatrick, Executive Assistant for Administration & Outreach; Claire Jones, Communications & Marketing Outreach Coordinator;  and Abby Robinson Graves, Community Engagement Director. We asked them to tell us the best part of working at GBBF and what the Foundation’s early literacy mission means to them. Here are a couple of the responses.


What is the best part of working at GBBF?

Books are an opportunity to open a child’s mind – with imagination, knowledge, and a love of reading – to do this for hundreds of thousands of children each month, is a privilege and honor. This passion drives me daily in my work, but it’s also an immense amount of fun. – James Pond

I have always loved books and sincerely believe that Reading is the most important skill for academic and lifelong success.  The ability to Read opens doors to infinite possibilities in a child’s life and every child deserves this opportunity. – Dean Hoskins

The best part of my job is knowing that we are making a real difference for children and providing families with a special bond through reading together, one that I am forever grateful to have experienced as a child. – Claire Jones

It is my privilege to work with incredible volunteers and passionate community members across the state to build relationships, which support our parents and families in reading and engaging with their child. This work is what will make Tennessee a great place for my children, and their friends, to learn, live, and grow. – Abby Robinson

I love being part of a team that helps make dreams come true! – Linda Kirkpatrick

Early Literacy Programs & Initiatives


The Imagination Library (IL) program mails age-appropriate, high-quality books each month to enrolled children, birth to age five, at no cost to families and regardless of income. Dolly Parton created the IL program in 1996 as a gift to the children in her hometown of Sevierville, Tenn. In 2004, former Gov. Phil Bredesen established GBBF to provide financial and administrative support for affiliate Imagination Library programs in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties, expanding the program statewide. Through the unique, public-private partnership, Tennessee has remained the only statewide IL program for 15 years, giving all age-eligible children in Tennessee the opportunity to receive high-quality, age-appropriate books each month in the mail at no cost to families. 

The Public-Private Partnership
  • With vital financial support from the Tennessee General Assembly, foundations, individuals, and corporate sponsors, GBBF funds half the cost of books for enrolled children in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
  • The Dollywood Foundation manages selection, pricing and distribution of the books.
  • Each local affiliate program enrolls children, promotes the program in the community and raises funds for the other half of the cost of books and mailing for enrolled children in their county. The 95 affiliate programs in each county in Tennessee are staffed largely by volunteers. These 700+ volunteers lend their time, talent, voice and support to the Imagination Library to make an impact on early literacy in our communities. Be sure to check out our blog in the next couple of weeks as we celebrate our volunteers during  National Volunteer Week.
In Tennessee,
  • 35.4 million books have been mailed to birth to age five children since 2004.
  • 285,988 books are mailed each month.
  • 70% of Tennessee’s age eligible population is enrolled.

In addition to affiliates, we have partnerships across the state that allow us to be a part of programs like Storybook Trails and Mobile Book Buses.



In May 2018, GBBF partnered with Tennessee State Parks Conservancy and the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation to launch Imagination Library (IL) Storybook Trails in Middle Tennessee with the goal of eventually spreading the idea statewide. Tennessee State Parks IL Storybook Trails tell a nature-themed IL story on signs placed at a child’s height throughout a short trail at a park. The trails feature reading tips on each page panel to bring the book to life with the surrounding nature. In addition to promoting literacy, and parental engagement, IL Storybook Trails encourage families to connect with nature and engage in a healthy, outdoor activity. 

GBBF provided the Tennessee State Parks Conservancy with grant funding to build the six initial trails. Exciting news: There will be six more IL Storybook Trails launched in East Tennessee in Summer 2019! More info coming soon!


Read more about the six Storybook Trails and where to visit them



Beyond the Imagination Library, GBBF promotes early childhood literacy through summer mobile book buses in communities. In 2018, GBBF provided funding through an Appalachian Regional Commission grant to help launch summer mobile book buses to serve children in three Northeast Tennessee school systems. Working to prevent the “Summer Slide”, these mobile book bus programs deliver books to community neighborhoods and give age-eligible children the opportunity to enroll in the Imagination Library. Additional funds are raised in the local communities of the three school systems.

Exciting news: There will be more summer mobile book buses launched in East Tennessee in Summer 2019! More info coming soon!

Read more about the mobile book buses.