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Dolly Parton opens books, imaginations with library in Quesnel

Book donations soar in Quesnel thanks to unique program for families
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Superstar Dolly Parton launched a free book program for kids. In Quesnel, based at the public library, more than 250 children now receive a book each month in the mail until the age of five. (Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library photo)

The Quesnel Library has been working more than nine to five to get books into the hands of children.

They have gotten some help from someone offering books of many colours, someone who will always love books, someone who wonders why’d you come in here readin’ like that… and for those not getting the song inferences, the supporter is Dolly Parton, the superstar of music, movies, business and, it turns out, books.

The Dolly Parton Imagination Library is an international program founded by the icon to deliver a regular ration of age-appropriate books to the kids who sign up. A sponsor community has to be involved to help organize and fund the program at the local level. Quesnel is such a community, led by the Quesnel Public Library in close partnership with the Community Arts Council and Literacy Quesnel.

Parton said that she was somewhat surprised by the groundswell of interest around the world in her book program. It started as a small launch in her home county and is now in many countries with more than a million kids getting their new book each month.

“Before he passed away, my daddy told me the Imagination Library was probably the most important thing I had ever done,” said Parton. “I can’t tell you how much that meant to me because I created the Imagination Library as a tribute to my daddy. He was the smartest man I have ever known but I know in my heart his inability to read probably kept him from fulfilling all of his dreams. Inspiring kids to love to read became my mission.”

That hunger to read can now be verified here in Quesnel as well.

“The Dolly Parton Imagination Library has been available in the community for a little over two years now and it has grown beyond our wildest expectations. We started off planning for 100 kids, which happened within the first week of availability,” said Heather Lee, Quesnel’s librarian. They have surpassed 250 kids and the list grows all the time.

“It’s really no surprise how popular the program is: registration is easy, there’s no cost to families, and the books are delivered right to the child’s home,” said Lee. “The quality of the books is excellent as well; the Dolly Parton Foundation has made a strong effort to select books that are age-appropriate, good quality, and include a high percentage of books written by Canadian authors. They are the sort of books that you would see in your public library.”

Part of the deal is, though, that the local partners share in the cost. The Quesnel Rotary Club donated to the program recently, but more contributions will be needed to keep this plethora of kids turning pages and expanding their potential, one title at a time.

“Many studies have shown that having age-appropriate books in the home has positive impacts on children’s academic success and vocabulary development, and this program is a great way to facilitate those positive outcomes in our community,” said Lee. “Comments from families participating in the program have been overwhelmingly positive, from how excited children are to receive books in the mail just for them, to parents being able to build a home library to enjoy and share, at no cost to them.”

“I do not know how we will be able to measure the impact this will have on our community,” said Community Arts Council president Cathy Heinzelman enthusiastically. “If they’re signed up right away they will accumulate a library of 60 books.”

As soon as babies are born, and at any age up until their fifth birthday, parents can register the child for the program. They then receive excellent books suited to babies’ handling, and as children grow the books become more involved and interesting. Once the child turns five years old, they graduate out of the program.

Registration is an easy process: pick up a form at the Quesnel Library, the Metis Society, the Friendship Centre, the Literacy Quesnel location in the West Park Mall, the Community Arts Council office in the Quesnel Recreation Centre, or online at www.quesnelarts.com. Completed forms can be dropped off at the Quesnel Library or emailed to: hlee@cariboord.ca.

“To keep programs like this funded and functional, support from the community is essential,” said Lee.

If community members would like to support this program, they are encouraged to contact Dina Unrau at the Arts Council, qdcac2015@gmail.com or 250-992-8200 ext 8; or Rebecca Beuschel at Literacy Quesnel, locquesnel@shaw.ca or 778-414-9119.

VIDEO: To see Dolly Parton’s message about the Imagination Library, CLICK HERE

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