2017-10-20 / Local News

Got books?

Your child’s future might depend on it
Ledger Staff Writer

A full book shelf inside a home offers an early predictor about young children’s success in school.

The significance of early learning has led the Dollywood Foundation to place a major focus on making books readily available to families with young children. The foundation has partnered with businesses and community partners like Cherokee County First Steps to provide free books every month for 1.2 million children under the age of five.

“The single most common indicator for a child’s word knowledge is the number of books in a home,” Dollywood Foundation CEO David Dotson said. “When you find a lot of books in a home, this usually means the books are being used to raise children in a literary-rich environment.”

Dotson was the featured speaker Thursday for the Cherokee County First Steps annual meeting at the Gaffney Visitors Center. He traveled from the foundation’s base in Sevier County, Tenn., to talk about the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and highlight the importance of early childhood education.

The imagination library started in 1995 with 20,000 children in Sevier County, Tenn., which includes Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. Since it was expanded nationally in 2001, the library now provides free books to children in the United States, Canada and Australia.

“Dolly Parton started this program because her father couldn’t read or write,” Dotson said. “She saw how her father was limited in what he could do. She knew he could have been more successful if he could read. She decided she would give back to the community by starting the imagination library to ensure all children could have access to books.”

Cherokee County First Steps provides free books to 2,160 children through its participation in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. The local board spends $40,000 annually for its share of the shipping costs for the books.

“The Dolly Parton Imagination Library has been a major focus of First Steps for the past decade,” executive director Dorothy Priester said. “We are currently serving 63 percent of the children in Cherokee County through this program. We know how critical it is to ensure children are able to read and develop their language skills at an early age so they are ready for school.”

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