Start the reading habit early in your children; register for free books

Leo McKenna reads a favorite book to his brother, Drew. Once children learn to read they can pass on the habit to younger siblings.

Did you know that simply reading to your child is one of the most important things you can do as a parent? According to the National Commission on Reading, “The single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school.”

Having a collection of children’s books at home is key to making reading part of your child’s daily routine. When I was pregnant with my first child, my friends threw us a baby shower where everyone brought their favorite children’s book. There were classics like “Goodnight Moon,” “Snow White” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” plus quite a few I had never even heard of. I was elated to have an instant library of extra special children’s books before my baby was even born!

So it’s not surprising that reading books became part of my family’s daily routine and one of my favorite ways to bond with my daughter. She was captivated by the colorful pictures, soothed by the sound of my voice, excited when we turned each page and comforted as we snuggled up with a book — or five — before bedtime.

Those books turned out to be the best gift ever. Reading together was not just fun — it also introduced my daughters to letters and sounds, new words, syntax and so much more. My daughters entered kindergarten familiar with the world of books and ready to learn. I know reading played a huge role in their success at school.

A few months ago, I learned about Addison County Readers (ACR), a local literacy organization that helps get free books in the hands — and homes — of Addison County children. Knowing how important the gift of books was for my family, I decided to volunteer for ACR and help bring the gift of books to others.

Addison County Readers is the local affiliate of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, an award-winning program that mails high-quality books to young children in select communities across the U.S. and the world. The books are mailed directly to children’s homes from the time they enroll until age 5. The books are totally free with no strings attached. Really!

The Imagination Library selects the books, negotiates bulk discounts and coordinates the massive monthly mailing that ensures the correct age-appropriate book gets to each child. Local affiliates, like ACR, cover the cost of the books and postage for the children in their community. That works out to about $30 per child per year. This is covered by donations from the towns, businesses and individuals in Addison County.

Since forming in 2008, ACR has enrolled about 5,000 Addison County children in the Imagination Library and delivered more than 150,000 books. The “Books at Birth” program ensures each newborn born at Porter Hospital goes home with a bag containing a book and an invitation to sign up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Children who participate from birth to age five will end up with a library of 60 books at home!

The impact of these books is difficult to quantify, but the kids — and parents — who receive them have nothing but praise for the program. Read what they have to say.

Meet Two Local Graduates Of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

Children: Althea and Audrey Laux

PARENTS: Ashley and Matt Laux

TOWN: Middlebury

FAVORITE BOOKS: “My No No No Day” and “Just One More”

Testimonial from Ashley:

“We learned about the Imagination Library from the ACR ‘Books at Birth’ bag we got at Porter Hospital when the girls were born. We were impressed by the variety of books in this program, including some bilingual books and stories by authors with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences. We also appreciate that Audrey received some different books than her older sister, Althea.

“The girls always enjoy visiting the ACR table at various community events. The high visibility of this program demonstrates to our kids that our community values reading and views it as an important part of daily life in Middlebury.”


NAME: Leo McKenna

PARENTS: Brittany Hartung and Jay McKenna

TOWN: Weybridge

FAVORITE BOOK: “I Don’t Want To Go To Sleep”

Testimonial from Brittany:

“Reading to Leo as a baby had so many benefits…it promoted cuddling, bonding, language development and vocabulary. It was also one of the only ways to keep him still! Beyond reading the story, I would use the book as a tool… counting the animals on a page or asking questions about how one of the characters might feel. Leo is now modeling what I did as he ‘reads’ books to his younger brother in that same interactive way.

“I was really surprised by the diverse selection of quality, age-appropriate books delivered each month. They were different from what I would have selected myself.

“Leo is thrilled whenever the books arrive in the mail, and he never gives them away. However, when he finds another copy of his favorite books at HOPE, we often buy it to share with his cousin in Wisconsin, who lives in a community that doesn’t have a Dolly Parton Imagination Library local affiliate. It makes Leo feel proud to share these stories.

“I’m a big reader and believe in the value of surrounding kids with books. Leo just turned 5 and has now graduated from the program. I feel really lucky that he was part of it! ACR is a tremendous service to the local community.”

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