Free books for Hoosiers 5 and under are coming soon, thanks to Dolly Parton

Country singer Dolly Parton in front of a mosaic of book covers.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is available in around half of all Indiana counties, but it is now expanding in order to reach families in all 92 Indiana counties. (Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library)

Reading birth to five — what a way to improve Indiana’s stagnating literacy rates.

The state kicked off Thursday an expansion of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which aims to provide free books on a monthly basis to young children in all 92 Indiana counties. 

Founded in 1995 by singer and philanthropist Dolly Parton, the Imagination Library mails age-appropriate books to all children 5 and under regardless of their family’s income.    

It’s currently available in around half of all Indiana counties, and local Imagination Library programs have been covering the costs of providing books. But starting Sept. 1, those programs will pay for just half the costs, while a state match covers the rest. The Indiana State Library will coordinate the program and provide the funding to partner organizations who want to expand the program to new areas of the state.

The expansion is funded by a $6 million appropriation over Indiana’s biennial budget cycle — $2 million in the first year and $4 million in the second year. 

Making the program available to more children was a priority of Gov. Eric Holcomb during the last legislative session. It’s part of a suite of initiatives aimed at improving literacy rates among young children as state reading scores have stagnated. 

“I learned from a very young age that reading is the key to further education and opportunity ahead, long-term,” Holcomb said in a statement. “The very ability to read can transport children and adults alike to places they have never been and open doors they never knew existed.”

The Imagination Library has provided over 200 million free books in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and Ireland, according to a press release from the organization. It announced a $1.6 million partnership with Illinois in June.

“It takes a lot of great people working together to make this possible, and I want to thank Governor Holcomb, the Indiana General Assembly, State Librarian Jake Speer and all our Local Community Partners across the state who helped make this dream a reality,” Dolly Parton said in a statement. 

Hoosier families can enroll their children in an existing local program or sign up to be notified of when it expands at imaginationlibrary.com.

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at aappleton@chalkbeat.org.

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