Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library provides free books to Dare County children

New technology and the creation of apps and e-readers for children has captured the attention of parents and children alike. With the COVID-19 pandemic causing school closures across the nation, many schools have turned to electronic devices, apps, and websites to continue to educate the children that they cannot see in-person. While apps can be fun, engaging, and essential in circumstances like the current one, they are meant to be used in moderation (particularly with young children) and cannot replace the warmth of a parent’s lap while reading a favorite storybook.

Children’s author Emilie Buchwald once said, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” Beginning in the late 2000’s, Children & Youth Partnership for Dare County (CYP) embraced Buchwald’s philosophy and began to develop an early literacy plan that focused on laps, not apps, for our community’s youngest learners.

In 2008, recognizing a need for greater access to children’s books at earlier ages in Dare County, CYP jumped on board with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a free, universal book-giving program for families with children under the age of five that was started by Dolly Parton in her hometown of Sevier County, Tennessee.

“Imagine if…every young child had regular and ongoing access to age-appropriate books of their very own to keep, books that would be read to them again and again with the repetition that children crave,” said Nancy Griffin, CYP’s Executive Director. “The early love of reading that would be nurtured and the strong family bonds that would be developed would yield immeasurable benefits for years to come. That was the vision driving the countywide launch of this program.”

Thanks to a three-year grant from the Outer Banks Community Foundation and the generosity of several local sponsors, the first set of Imagination Library books were mailed to the homes of local children in March of 2008, reaching nearly 500 children.

Since then, Imagination Library has continued to reach more families thanks to the kindness and support of the Dare County community, mailing over 150,000 books to children in every zip code in Dare County. Additionally, through an expansion grant from the NC Legislature and the North Carolina Partnership for Children in 2017, CYP has been able to eliminate their previous waiting list and ensure that all children ages birth-five are able to access high-quality, age-appropriate books.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library doesn’t just provide books for families. It provides experiences and excitement around reading! With colorful stories and helpful reading tips included, each monthly book serves as a gentle reminder for families to read with their child.

“My son checks the mailbox almost every day to see if he has gotten a new book in the mail,” said one Imagination Library parent. “This program has made reading so much more exciting [and] has exposed us to books that we may not have otherwise heard of [that] have quickly become some of our favorites.”

Research has shown that exposure to books and literacy can be one of the strongest predictors of later reading success when a child enters school. New research even suggests that reading proficiency by third grade can predict later life achievements such as graduation. Regardless of the data, they all mean one thing – READING MATTERS! This is why CYP has worked hard to build a continuum of early literacy for Dare County’s young children, bringing two additional literacy programs, Raising A Reader and Reach Out and Read, into the community in 2009 and 2012 to complement Imagination Library.

Currently, CYP mails books to over 1,110 children who are enrolled in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, and registrations for the program are always open for families with young children in the community. If you are interested in registering your child (ages birth-five) to receive a free book monthly through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Dare County, please contact Carla Heppert at CYP by calling 252-441-0614. You may also visit for more information about registering online.