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Watch now: Macon County Imagination Library serves 1,200 kids

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Tanerri'L Thomas, 2, of Decatur poses with one of the books she received from the Macon County Imagination Library. The program provides a book every month by mail to children ages birth-to-5 who live in Macon County. 

United Way and the Community Foundation sponsor the Macon County Imagination Library, the brainchild of Dolly Parton, which provides a free book every month for kids from birth to 5.

DECATUR — When representatives of the Macon County Imagination Library visit places like Decatur Day Care to encourage families to sign up, they take a life-size cutout of founder Dolly Parton along.

“People always want to get their picture taken with her,” said Ryan Huffer, director of marketing for United Way of Decatur and Macon County.

Parton, whose list of awards and recognitions is almost as big as her personality, founded Dolly Parton Imagination Library in 1995. Children birth to 5 can receive a free book every month in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the Republic of Ireland.

“When I was growing up in the hills of East Tennessee, I knew my dreams would come true,” Parton wrote on the organization's website. “I know there are children in your community with their own dreams. They dream of becoming a doctor or an inventor or a minister. Who knows, maybe there is a little girl whose dream is to be a writer and singer.

“The seeds of these dreams are often found in books and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world.”

Parton's vision was that the program would partner with local community organizations that would provide the money, while Imagination Library would handle the logistics of choosing and mailing the books. Families sign up through the United Way and Community Foundation of Macon County, and once the child's eligibility has been determined — which is only a matter of falling into the birth-to-5 age range and living in Macon County — the information is added to the database and the child starts receiving books.

The program came to Macon County in July and 1,200 kids are signed up, though many more — about 5,000 — are eligible. Parents can register their kids on the Facebook page or on the United Way of Decatur and Mid-Illinois webpage. 

Candra Reed's little girl, Ava, 2, loves being read to and looks forward every night to her reading time with her mom. Receiving a new book every month is a big help to Reed, who as a busy working mom, doesn't have time to get to the library as often as she'd like.

“She turns the pages, and she thinks she can read to me as well afterwards,” Reed said with a laugh. “They're really good books for her.”

The books have already been vetted for age-appropriateness and contain lots of pictures, which Ava enjoys, she said, and the most recent book is in both Spanish and English. Reed said she didn't ask for bilingual books but is pleased that it's an option for families who are bilingual.

Parton wrote on the website that her father told her before he died that Imagination Library was the most important thing she'd ever done. He was illiterate, and she said that hampered his ability to fulfill his own dreams.

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library

Country superstar Dolly Parton reads to children in a photo from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library website. Parton founded the program as a way to encourage children to read and to provide them with the start to their own home library. 

As of October, more than 168 million books have been put into the hands of children worldwide.

Megan Meyrick has two kids in the birth-to-5 age group, Le’Moni Bragg, age 4, and Tanerri’L Thomas, 2. Meyrick heard about Imagination Library several years ago when she worked for Baby TALK and was delighted to discover the program was coming to Macon County.

The girls love books, she said, and can't wait for their monthly book to arrive.

“We have many books at home but they are still very excited to receive these books in the mail,” Meyrick said. “Both girls call the mail 'getting an email' and it’s something they like to check every day, so it’s super exciting when there is a new book in there that is addressed to them.”

The first book was “The Little Engine That Could,” and as classic as it is, the family had never gotten around to reading it before. It's become a favorite.

“Now whenever we see trains stopped as we drive around Decatur, Tanerri’L says they need the little engine to help them go,” Meyrick said. “I like the diversity in the books. We have received books that are written in both Spanish and English, and they portray very diverse characters in the illustrations. The books are targeted to the developmental level of the girls and include color words, rhyming patterns, etc. Overall I have been very pleased with the program and think it is an excellent resource for families in our community.”

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter


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