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Imagine … A better future for our children

Imagine … A better future for our children

By Todd Travis

Free books

When Dr. Susan Crisafulli had her first child in 2004, she was offered the opportunity to sign up for a free book program from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. She hadn’t heard of the program prior to that day, but she was delighted to participate and begin receiving books for her child. At the time, she was living in Tennessee, which is Dolly Parton’s home state – there, they have a statewide program allowing kids to enjoy this special experience.

Having had a second child shortly thereafter, Dr. Crisafulli remembers the joy on her children’s faces when they saw a book come in and their name would be on the label.

“It was just like getting a big present in the mail. We would read the books over and over again. There were lots of books we got that I wouldn’t have known about without this program, even though we spent lots of time at the library as well,” remembered Dr. Crisafulli.

A child at the Storybook Breakfast with two of her favorite characters, Cinderella and Snow White. (Photos by Stacie Drane)

How it works

After enrolling in the program, children begin to receive books once a month from birth to age 5. Over the course of those years, a child will receive 60 free books from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. Books are selected by a panel of early childhood development experts, based on the child’s age, and are designed to engage with them at that particular stage in their development. Children can be enrolled at any point between birth and age 5 and will begin receiving books based on their current age.

When Dr. Crisafulli moved to Indiana in 2008, there were no local branches of the Imagination Library. While she felt disappointed, she didn’t have the time to try and start one herself, since she had just begun a new job and her kids were just 1 and 3 years old.

Seeing the need

A few years later, Dr. Crisafulli and some of her students were going into local elementary schools and helping kids struggling with literacy. During that time, she realized the common denominator with many kids she was helping was that they didn’t have books at home. That spurred her to reach out to the local school corporations in Johnson County to inquire about kindergarten readiness. She was surprised to find that roughly 41% of kids entering kindergarten are not considered “kindergarten ready.”

A child pulls her newest Imagination Library book from the mailbox. Children in the program receive one book in the mail each month.

“Not being kindergarten ready means that they cannot identify letters or the sounds those letters make. There are a couple other markers of kindergarten readiness, but that’s the big one. It’s not that they expect the kids to be able to read, but if they don’t even know the alphabet and can’t recognize the letters, it is a lot more challenging of them to get started,” she explained.

Bringing the program to Johnson County

Dr. Crisafulli began to research and take the steps necessary to bring the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program to Johnson County and the Southside of Indianapolis. By 2017, she had officially opened a local branch in Franklin, and as of November of last year the eligibility area has expanded to Greenwood.

The beginning stages of literacy are so important because they set the tone for the rest of the child’s life. By fourth grade, a child is transitioning from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” If they are falling behind early on, it can be very difficult to catch up and, statistically, can lead to troubling outcomes for those kids.

Haley and Alaina Drane receive a hug from Curious George at the Storybook Breakfast last fall.

ProLiteracy, an international nonprofit supporting literacy programs to help adults learn to read and write, reports that a child’s ability to read proficiently by fourth grade has a strong impact on his or her ability to succeed in life. Low literacy rates have been linked to a greater likelihood of students dropping out of high school and to higher rates of poverty, unemployment, incarceration, and hospitalization.

Get enrolled

There are no physical locations for Imagination Library. To join and begin receiving free books for your children visit: imaginationlibrary.com and click “Check Availability.

To donate, visit imaginationlibraryjoco.org or email: imaginationlibraryjoco@gmail.com

Nitro, the Indy Fuel hockey team’s mascot, stopped by the Storybook Breakfast to visit with children and share his excitement for reading.

Literacy statistics:

  1. Students who read on their own at home have higher math skills.
  2. Children growing up in homes with many books get three years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class.
  3. The ability to read is critical to a child’s success in school, lifelong earning potential and their ability to contribute to the nation’s economy and its security.
  4. S. literacy rates rank 12th in the top 20 countries with high income levels.
  5. Sixty-eight percent of fourth graders in the U.S. have below-proficient literacy skills; 40% have literacy skills that fall below basic.

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