Strengthening Ohio’s Childhood Literacy
Written by Catherine Sulecki, Marketing and Communications Director, Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library
“The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper’s message of “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” resonates with all readers, especially young kids. The book’s theme of optimism and hard work is one reason why it’s the first book kids receive after enrolling in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library promotes early literacy and access to quality books by mailing one free age-appropriate book to kids all over the world. The organization began in Sevier County, Tennessee, and quickly expanded nationally and globally.
Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine was first introduced to the Imagination Library through her grandchildren who received the books in the mail. She recalls her grandchildren’s excitement when they received a new book in the mail specifically addressed to them.
In 2019, the Imagination Library was only available in pockets of Ohio—about 13% of kids between birth and age 5 in Ohio had access to the program. When Mrs. DeWine became First Lady of Ohio, she set out to make these free books available to every Ohio child from birth to age 5. The Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library was established in August 2019, in partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, ensuring all children under the age of 5 in Ohio had access to the program.
Since 2019, more than 6.9 million Imagination Library books have been mailed to Ohio children at no cost to families. This April, 316,435 Ohio kids received their age-appropriate book in the mail. More than 44% of eligible kids in the state are currently enrolled in the Imagination Library.
“Reading is one of the single greatest things we can do for our kids, and with our kids,” said Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine. “We cannot take for granted the impact strong literacy skills will have on a child’s life.”
Brain science shows that a child’s brain is already 80% developed by the time he or she turns three years old. Additionally, kids who enter kindergarten without the basic knowledge of books—things like reading from front to back, or the understanding that print has meaning—will begin school at a disadvantage. And unfortunately, that disadvantage continues to get worse over time. Children who struggle at the start of kindergarten are more likely to drop out of high school before graduation.
Children enrolled in the Imagination Library receive 12 books a year. If a newborn enrolls in the program, he or she will receive the full 60 books from the Imagination Library. The Imagination Library’s book list is updated annually, and each age group receives a bilingual English/ Spanish book.
More than 50% of eligible kids have yet to enroll in the free book program. To support increasing enrollment in the Imagination Library, you can:
- Share information about the Imagination Library at community events and meetings;
- Partner with your Imagination Library county affiliate, who is working to increase enrollment in your county;
- Talk to your friends and family who have young kids to see if they have enrolled in the program; and
- Donate to your county’s Imagination Library affiliate to ensure the program remains free for all families.
To enroll a child in the Ohio Governor’s Imagination library, visit OhioImaginationLibrary.org.
For further information about the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library, please email Catherine Sulecki at Catherine.Sulecki@ohgil.org.