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Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

By: EMMA REILLY

Tuesday 04 May 2021


I am delighted to be writing about a very close topic to my heart: books. My earliest reading experience stems from being given two books as a child and weekly trips to my local library. I can still visualise and recall the room and how the books smelled. These memories evoke a solid connection to feeling extraordinary enough to receive the books and to spend time at the library. That association has stayed with me through life.

Fast forward many decades to now, and I find myself coordinating three literacy programmes; Doodle Den, Doodle Families and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library for The Childhood Development Initiative (CDI), an Area-Based Childhood (ABC) programme based in Tallaght. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a free book gifting programme for children living in Dublin 24 (and in Cork more recently through Let’s Grow Together, another ABC programme).


How the programme works


CDI became an affiliate of the Imagination Library, having established contact with the Dollywood Foundation in 2018. The Foundation offers access to a book ordering system which is an IT infrastructure to allow children from birth to five years old to register on a database. This database in turn, links to the fulfilment agency and ensures the right book gets to the right child with their name and address on their package. So, it is like a present every month for each child.

Another essential element to the affordability of the programme is the access to the books at cost price. Dolly Parton does not fund the books herself but has an agreement with the publishing company Penguin Random House to provide the books at a cost price. A book that would typically cost about €8 or more can be purchased at a cost price, so approximately €1.36 per book. CDI also have a fantastic collaboration with An Post, who absorb the cost of posting the books every month. I have a deep sense of admiration and gratitude to the postal workers in Dublin 24; they do an amazing job delivering hundreds of books to children every month.

All children living in Dublin 24 are eligible to sign up to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library from birth until their 5th birthday. Each month they will receive an age-appropriate book addressed to them in the post. If a child is registered at birth, they can create a library of their very own, by age five, building up to 60 books! Currently, there are over 6,800 children who have availed of this programme. Our Public Health Nurses have been crucial in helping us get babies and children registered when they visit new parents in the community. We have delivered 108,000 books since the beginning of the programme, which is just amazing. This universal approach means all children, in the areas where this programme is available, regardless of their parents’ ability to buy books, can experience the joy of books. This, in turn, will establish a lifelong love of reading and books.

At CDI, through our evidence-based programmes, we know that the more words a child hears in their early years, increases their range of vocabulary. What better way to encourage language development than through the medium of books and shared book reading. Creating the time and space to read with a child establishes a positive association between books and love and connection. We know how important a secure base for a child is in their social and emotional development. I cannot think of a more beneficial way to nurture this than through shared book reading.

Each month we also send out tips and ideas for parents to support their engagement with the books and their child’s development. We have been analysing some data recently to establish what impact book gifting has had on the community. One really positive outcome is that parents are reading more frequently to their children across all social backgrounds, which is really encouraging.
I feel absolutely privileged to be part of this programme. I love it when parents and children get in touch to say how much they enjoy getting the books every month. For example, Seán’s mother got in touch with me to say how much he had enjoyed the books; he wrote, “I have loved getting every book you sent and thank you very much. I’m going to love all these books forever. I’m sad that this is going to be the end of the books because I’m turning five, but I want to say thanks for everyone I’ve gotten. I really appreciate it”.

This, for me, makes my heart sing, to think that I could be part of that story in some small way. If you would like to know more about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library or indeed would like to support Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, please contact emma@cdi.ie

Emma Reilly
Emma has been working with CDI since 2019 as their Literacy Coordinator.
Emma has worked with children and families for the last 31 years. Initially, she trained as a Children's Nurse in OLHSC in Crumlin and has spent the last 17 years working in the Early Years sector in training and development with Early Childhood Ireland and as Senior Childcare Services Manager with Cooperative Housing Ireland. Emma has a BA in Early Childhood Teaching and Learning and has Post Grad in Leadership and Management. Emma is currently completing a research Masters in the School of Language Literacy and Early Childhood Education in DCU.

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