Dolly Parton program sends free books to Northeast Ohio families

EUCLID, Ohio - Raising the literacy rate for young children throughout Northeast Ohio is no small feat — but there is one thing that seems to be helping, and educators are hoping that by spreading the word it will help even more.

It’s called the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a program that delivers a brand-new, age-appropriate book to a family’s doorstep every month, from the time a child is born to when they are 5 years old.

The goal is to create a home library filled with 60 books and prepare kids for kindergarten at an early age.

The best part?

It’s completely free.

“The little pushback we sometimes get from parents when we contact them directly is, who can believe that it is free? They’ll say, ‘At some point, I’m going to get a bill for this.’ But the reality is, they won’t,” said Bob Paponetti, president of the Literacy Cooperative.

He said many children begin kindergarten not fully prepared for kindergarten and research has shown, over and over again, the correlation between the number of books in a home and a child’s language development.

The program was started by singer Dolly Parton because she grew up without books in her own home. It has since spread to 1,600 communities throughout the country, with more than a million brand-new books mailed out.

In Cuyahoga County, families in the following cities are eligible:

Garfield Heights
Maple Heights
Bedford
Bedford Heights
Warrensville Heights
Shaker Heights
University Heights
Cleveland Heights
East Cleveland
Euclid

There are also certain zip codes in Cleveland that are eligible.

The program is open to all families with children under the age of five in Summit and Lorain Counties.

Sanya Henley, the principal of Euclid’s Early Learning Center, said they oftentimes see a difference in students that have had early learning exposure compared to students who have not.

“There is nothing you have to lose, you only have to gain,” Henley said. Currently, in Euclid, roughly 520 children are signed up.

For moms like Kendra Taylor, the book delivery has become a household routine for her 4-year-old son Kyson.

“When they come in the mail, he’s really excited, so it’s our monthly treat that he gets,” Taylor said. “He likes to hear them over and over again.”

Paponetti said they work with libraries, schools, and pediatrician’s offices to help spread the word and ask parents of children under the age of five to sign up. There is no income restriction.

It really is as simple as filling out a form — online or on paper — with your name and address. You can find all of the details here.

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