By Sara Busse
Country music legend Dolly Parton has a dream: to put books in the hands of young children across America. Thanks to Marion Tanner, that dream is becoming reality in Fayette County.
On May 7th, the Fayette County Read Aloud chapter hosted an event to launch Parton’s program, Imagination Library, to the families of the area. According to Tanner, it was a day to remember.
“Seeing all of those young families bringing in their babies with ribbons in their hair and all dressed up to get books—I haven’t seen anything like that in a long time!” Tanner exclaimed.
Tanner and Linda Cole are chapter co-presidents of Read Aloud in Fayette County. They are expanding the organization to put readers in all county elementary schools. The introduction of Dolly’s program will supplement their efforts by providing access to books for the areas youngest residents.
“We have so many kids who come to kindergarten that have never held a book,” the compassionate retired teacher said. “This encourages them to start libraries of their own.”
Cole and Tanner attended Read Aloud’s summer conference in 2015 and heard Nancy Hanna speak. Hanna works with the Greenbrier County Campaign for Grade Level Reading and talked about resources they were utilizing in the county. Imagination Library was one.
Parton’s initiative provides a book a month to children, ages birth to five, who are registered with the program and living in an area with a sponsor, like Read Aloud in Fayette County. The local group procures money to pay for mailing the books to the children.
“It’s $2.10 per student each month,” Tanner explained. “At the Read Aloud conference, [Hanna] talked about Early Literacy Grants—and one of the things they could be used for was to purchase Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library for their school system. I asked the Title One people in our county what they spent that money for, and found out we could apply.” Tanner received a grant through the state and through the Fayette County Board of Education.
Tanner and Cole are members of Delta Kappa Gamma, an international group of women educators, instrumental in organizing the Fayette County Read Aloud program. Many of the Fayette chapter’s members were on hand for the launch of Imagination Library on May 7th in the Oak Hill High School cafeteria.
“It was really rewarding for so many of us from Delta Kappa Gamma. We have all been teachers in the area, and nearly every young parent there was someone we had in school. Now they were bringing in their babies to get books,” Tanner said. The members of Delta Kappa Gamma did face painting and hosted a story corner with Clifford the dog. Many other community organizations participated in or donated to the event.
“Kroger donated water, Marquee Cinemas in Beckley gave us popcorn,” Tanner said. Other participants included the Fayetteville Women’s Club with a “Jack and the Beanstalk” theme, complete with “magic beans” for the children to plant; the Mount Hope Lions Club with a fishing game as well as eyesight testing; The National Park Service with “Furs and Skulls” (from animals you could find in the New River Gorge such as skunks, otter, fox, etc.); and the West Virginia Treasurer’s office promoting Smart 529 college accounts.
Tanner credits Robin Taylor, Program Director of Imagination Library, of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, with making the Fayette program possible. The department gave the Fayette group a $500 grant to kick off the program.
“We used that money to buy books—we gave books to the brothers and sisters who came in so every child could get a book at the event,” Tanner said. “We registered 160 kids at the event.” After the event, the Fayette Read Aloud group went to the Meadow Bridge library and the Montgomery Library and registered children there, as well. The public libraries in the county will have registration forms, and families can also register online.
While the event was a great success, Tanner is realistic and knows there is a lot of work ahead.
“There are 2,600 kids eligible for the program,” she explained. “When I was a middle school teacher, there were kids who were so far behind because they couldn’t read. But we did something that just might make a difference.
“This is a labor of love—you want them to be successful. It was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time.”
For information on the Imagination Library program, visit www.imaginationlibrary.com. For information about other Imagination Library programs in West Virginia, contact Robin Taylor, Program Director, of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sara Busse is a long-time Charleston resident and community volunteer. Her work at Trinity’s Table earned her recognition as a 2016 YWCA Woman of Achievement.
Photos (l-r): Christie and Grant Campbell registered their children, Christian (l) and Destiny (r), for Imagination Library at Oak Hill High School, May 7; Kathy Coleman (center), Delta Kappa Gamma member, read Jack and the Beanstalk to Brooklyn (l) and Maxx Davis. The Fayetteville Women’s Club provided materials for children to plant their own magic beans. Kathy is also a member of the FWC; Clifford, the Big Red Dog was a big hit with young listeners at the launch event.