The singer, businesswoman and humanitarian, Dolly Parton, has often said ‘You can never get enough books into the hands of enough children’. Books teach children essential life skills, enabling them to not only progress at school but also meet new people, explore new places, and to develop their imagination.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has brought the joy of reading to millions of children by gifting over 150 million books to participating families across the US, Canada, Australia, Ireland and here in the UK. Inspired by her father, a smart hard-working man who was unable to read or write, Dolly set up the first Imagination Library in her hometown in Tennessee because of her belief that if you can read, you can do anything, dream anything, and be anything!
This World Book Day UK we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the impact that book gifting can make to children’s lives. Dolly’s belief that reading can help you achieve your dreams is backed by research showing that sharing books with babies and young children has a massive impact on long-term attainment and wellbeing.
The joy of reading from an early age
Reading with children helps them learn to speak and communicate with confidence, and supports the development of creative thinking, building the foundations of literacy development. This is why the Imagination Library is designed for children from birth to age five – a critical time in a child’s development, when 90% of the brain’s connections and pathways are established.
At the Dollywood Foundation, we know this has wide-ranging benefits beyond school readiness and is why our aim is to inspire a lifelong love of books and reading. Sharing books helps build strong family bonds, and promotes wellbeing through spending time together, enjoying the stories and having fun. All too often academic achievement is seen as the main driver to get children reading. And while we rightly focus on the benefits of early book sharing on attainment in the longer term, this can overshadow the impact that the joy of reading has on our mental wellbeing throughout our life.
We know that care experienced children are more likely to face poor mental health throughout their lives, but we also know that book ownership is one of the best predictors for better overall mental wellbeing. Research carried out by the National Literacy Trust in 2018 demonstrated that children who have a book of their own at home have, on average, a higher mental wellbeing score than those who don’t and those who don’t have a book of their own at home are twice as likely to have low mental wellbeing. This shows just how important it is to get books into the hands of children.
Supporting care experienced children and their families and carers
For the last ten years in Scotland, The Dollywood Foundation has been working in partnership with Scottish Book Trust and the Scottish Government to provide free books to care experienced children under five across Scotland. A brand-new book from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is posted each month, directly addressed to the child. It comes carefully wrapped and has been chosen specially to suit the child’s age and stage of development.
These high quality, brand new books are chosen by our expert selection committee, who work with publisher Penguin Random House to help children build a rich and diverse library at home. Our book list includes a range of classic tales and new and exciting authors and illustrators, including award winning titles like Mabel and The Mountain by Kim Hillyard and Look Up by Nathan Byron and Dapo Adeola. Each year the committee take great care to curate a list of titles that is reflective of different families, cultures and experiences, which is really valued by families.
Receiving a gift each month provides a gentle reminder of the benefits of reading and creates excitement around books. By gifting the book directly to the child, it means they have something that they own and is theirs to keep. This sends an incredibly powerful message to develop self-worth and confidence and we often hear wonderful feedback from parents and carers on how much they value receiving this special gift:
“I think the scheme was wonderful, our youngest child was so excited when he received the books through the letterbox, he would be jumping on the spot clasping his hands together smiling so hard it was amazing to see such excitement in him.”
- Foster Carer
“The children are excited to receive their book and share it with their carers. Not only does this help promote a love and curiosity of reading, but also strengthens the bond with their foster family by sharing quality time together, enjoying a book. During a time of uncertainty and less access to activities and facilities, there was one thing that the children could be certain of, and that was receiving their new book in the post from the Imagination Library!”
- Social Worker
Sharing books with babies and young children is the perfect time for cuddles and eye contact and creates a space to chat together. This all supports the development of safe and secure attachment while helping to build a child’s understanding of the world around them. Stable, loving relationships at home are so important for all children and for us it’s great to hear that the Imagination Library is adding to this environment for care experienced children.
Care experienced children are signed up to the Imagination Library through a contact in their local authority. You can find local contacts by visiting the website where you will also find a list of other programmes run by communities, charities and early years settings across Scotland.
If you would like to find out more about the library's work with care experienced children, please get in touch with Kirsty Hill at The Dollywood Foundation: firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.
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