June 12, 2012

UK town adopts Dolly Parton model for child literacy


Dolly Parton with The Little Engine That Could, the first book given to kids enrolled in her Imagination Library

The BBC reported this week that the town of Bradford, England, will start an Imagination Library, following the lead of Rotherham and other towns in England and Scotland.

Launched by singer/actress Dolly Parton, the Imagination Library is a literacy program run by Parton’s Dollywood Foundation that sends enrolled children a free book every month from the month of their birth until they enter kindergarten. Growing up in rural Sevier County, Tennessee, Parton had friends and relatives who were illiterate, which was part of what led her to start a literacy program in her home county. The Imagination Library has been reproduced in 566 counties in the US, across 36 states, as well as in Canada. In 2007, Parton launched the first UK iteration in Rotherham, and it’s spread to 30 British towns; the addition of Bradford brings the total up to  31.

Chris McKay, head of the Canterbury Children’s Centre, said that the program would provide a valuable service to families without the disposable income to buy books, telling the BBC, “Books are expensive and if people are on limited income then there are difficult choices to be made and sometimes books can be seen as a luxury. This is a means of getting books into homes where they might not normally be able to access them.”

The program in Rotherham has reported strong results, citing a 5.2% difference in literacy, language, and communication between children enrolled in the Imagination Library and those who aren’t.

Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.