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Watch now: The Dolly Parton Imagination Library pulls into Macon County

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Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe reads "The Little Engine That Could." Following the reading, families received free books through the Macon County Imagination Library program.

DECATUR — Country superstar Dolly Parton, who topped the charts begging Jolene not to take her man, has no such qualms about giving away books to kids.

Lots and lots of books, averaging an extraordinary 1.8 million a month all over the world through a foundation she created called Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

And now the Imagination Library is up and running in Macon County and was launched Thursday with an introduction event hosted in the children’s section of Decatur Public Library.

The United Way of Decatur & Mid-Illinois is partnering with the Community Foundation of Macon County to underwrite the library’s operations. Parents or guardians who sign up a child aged between birth and 5 will see that child receive a free and new brightly-illustrated book every month from the Imagination Library until their 5th birthday.

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Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe reads "The Little Engine That Could" for the launch of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library at the Decatur Public Library in July.

To register, go to and also follow events on the Macon County Imagination Library Facebook page.

Natalie Beck, CEO of the Community Foundation, explained how the library is underwritten: Her organization and the United Way partner to pay for the books, which are selected and mailed by the Imagination Library. The cost, a considerable price break over the normal cost of new books, works out at $2.10 per book.

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Those who took part Thursday in the launch of the Macon County Imagination Library pose for a photo with a cutout of Dolly Parton and the book "The Little Engine That Could." The national program, created by Parton's foundation, encourages reading through the delivery of free books to youngsters. 

“If we have say 5,000 children (in the age range) and say we get 65% enrolled, which I think would be optimistic and will take some time, we’ll be looking at an investment of around $85,000 a year,” Beck explained.

“But that is an incredible rate to be able to buy books.”

Families with multiple children each get multiple books and there are no fees to recipients. Beck says it encourages parents to read to their kids and that simple act can have voluminous benefits: studies show that kids who are read to have heard some 300,000 words by age 5; those who are never read to may have heard only 4,600 words.

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Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe reads "The Little Engine That Could" for the launch of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library on Thursday at the Decatur Public Library.

“By having books in the home and encouraging adults to read to their kids, we are hoping that when they enter kindergarten, they will be ready to read,” said United Way President Debbie Bogle. “This program is perfect for Macon County.”

The first book the Dolly Parton Library will give away is the “Little Engine that Could” and Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe got the ball rolling Thursday with a spirited reading of the classic tale to a group of kids and parents who showed up for the library launch.

The kids sat enthralled as the mayor described a little train that really thought it could, and eventually did. Decatur parent Hillary Tucker, who brought her 1 ½ year-old daughter Lily along, has an aunt in Tennessee who told her about the library program and she’s very glad it managed to puff its way into Central Illinois.

“It’s a great idea for Macon County and it's a great idea for kids, for sure,” she said.

Contact Tony Reid at (217) 421-7977. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyJReid


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