Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library comes to California

Senator Shannon Grove and Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins announced that Senate Bill 1183, their bipartisan legislation in partnership with The Dollywood Foundation to establish the Imagination Library of California Statewide Program, has been signed by Governor Newsom. The Imagination Library of California statewide program will work with local partners in each county to mail free, age-appropriate books directly to California’s early readers every month, from birth until age five.

SB 1183, which establishes the statewide program under the direction of the state librarian, is the first time senators Atkins and Grove have coauthored legislation. The program establishes a comprehensive literacy initiative for encouraging preschool children to develop a love of reading and learning. The bill received bipartisan support in both houses.

Entertainer, businesswoman and philanthropist Dolly Parton started the Imagination Library in 1995, gifting books to young children in the Tennessee County where she grew up each month to inspire an early love of reading. Since statewide adoption by Tennessee in 2004, the nonprofit program has gifted over 186 million books across five countries and one out of every 10 children under the age of five in the United States receives a book in the mail each month.  California is the 15th state to commit to creating a statewide Imagination Library program.

“I’m so thrilled at the overwhelming support to make my Imagination Library available to every child in California, aid Dolly Parton. “I want to thank Senator Shannon Grove and Senator Toni Atkins for inspiring tremendous support from California legislators and Governor Gavin Newsom for enthusiastically signing this bill. Today is an amazing milestone for children and families across the state! We still have a lot of work to do, but together we can inspire a love of reading in children across California that will last a lifetime.”

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“Today marks a significant day, the beginning of a magnificent statewide program which will put books in the hands of all California children at a young age, opening the door to limitless possibility for their future,” said Grove. “It is truly an honor to join with Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins to bring forward this legislation which encourages families to read together, increases learning outcomes in school and creates memories with our children that will last a lifetime.”

“Growing up with very little money in southwest Virginia, my parents taught me that books were my ticket to see the world,” said Atkins. “A deep love of reading and learning is the greatest gift they ever gave me—it is so special to be able to pass that on to children across California. And, to be able to do so in partnership with my friend, Senator Grove, and my country music idol, Dolly Parton, is just icing on the cake.”

Currently, 1 percent of California children age 0-5 are enrolled in existing local Imagination Library programs, which continue to see rising interest and success, especially in rural and hard-to-reach communities where libraries are more difficult to access. SB 1183 creates a statewide program that will reach all 58 counties, opening eligibility up to 2.4 million children in California. The 2022-23 state budget also includes $68.2 million in one-time funding to establish the program in partnership with The Dollywood Foundation, under the administration of the state librarian.

Research shows that early reading offers numerous benefits for childhood development in the first five years of life. Getting children excited about books and inspiring shared family reading time helps build language and memory skills and sparks a child’s imagination. Research demonstrates that young children who are exposed to books and who read early and often are better prepared for kindergarten and excel academically.

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SB 1183 will immediately allow the state librarian and The Dollywood Foundation to begin establishing local Imagination Library partners, with new county programs anticipated to launch and begin enrolling children mid-2023.

Grove represents California’s 16th Senate District which encompasses large portions of Kern, Tulare and San Bernardino counties and including the cities of Bakersfield, Barstow, California City, Exeter, Frazier Mountain, Joshua Tree, Mojave, Needles, Ridgecrest, Rosamond, Taft, Tehachapi, Twentynine Palms, Tulare, Visalia, Yucca Valley and portions of the Kern River Valley. Website of Senator Shannon Grove: https://grove.cssrc.us/

Atkins is President pro Tempore of the California Senate. Having previously served as speaker of the California Assembly, she began her tenure in the Senate in 2016. As senator for District 39, she represents the cities of San Diego, Coronado, Del Mar and Solana Beach. Website of President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins: www.senate.ca.gov/Atkins

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, the flagship program of The Dollywood Foundation, has become the preeminent early childhood book-gifting program in the world. In partnership with local program partners, the program has gifted well over 186 million free books in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and The Republic of Ireland. Inspired by her father’s inability to read and write, Dolly Parton started her Imagination Library in 1995 to foster a love of reading for the children within her home county. Today, her program mails more than 2 million high-quality, age-appropriate books each month directly to children’s homes. Each child enrolled in the program receives one book per month until their fifth birthday — at no cost to families.

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The impact of the program has been widely researched, and results suggest positive increases in key early childhood literacy metrics. Penguin Random House is the exclusive publisher for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. For more information, visit imaginationlibrary.com.