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Growing program provides pre-school kids steady supply of new books

Alaska Dispatch

An international program designed to foster reading among preschool children is now in 100 Alaska communities.

Imagination Library – which is designed to deliver high-quality, age-appropriate books each month to children from birth to age 5 -- just added programs in Galena and Valdez, bringing the total number of Alaska programs to 100.

The program has operated in Alaska since 2009. There are no libraries, per se. Instead, volunteers head up the programs, which distribute books to children in the communities.

Barbara Brown, project manager for Best Beginnings -- an Anchorage-based public-private partnership promoting early childhood education in Alaska -- said more than 19,000 Alaska children are part of the program. That’s about 36 percent of Alaska's 54,000 children under age 5.

The Imagination Library was founded by country music legend Dolly Parton in 1996. The program was originally designed to provide books for children in East Tennessee, but later expanded to the rest of the United States. Today, there are programs in the United Kingdom and Canada, too.

After a child enrolls, a new, age-appropriate book is sent to the child every month until his or her fifth birthday. While the books are free to the families, the cost of the book has to be covered by a local entity. Last year, the Alaska State Legislature appropriated $250,000 for the program, Brown said, with about half of the money going to purchasing books for Alaska children. The rest is covered by local communities.

Those communities range from large (Fairbanks and Anchorage) to small (Tanacross, Eagle, Brevig Mission and Galena).  Brown expects the program to grow because other communities have expressed interest.

For information about the Imagination Library, visit the Best Beginnings website