- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (AP) - “The Little Engine That Could” is his favorite, but Douglas Miles, 3, likes all kinds of stories. The “Llama Llama” series is also a great standby, but most of all, he just likes books.

Part of that was cultivated through Floyd County’s Imagination Library program, an international initiative started by Dolly Parton. Children who are registered get a new paperback book every month from the time they’re born until age 5. Douglas’ mother, Dani, said she’s glad he’s signed up for it.

“I know the impact that reading could have on him,” Dani said. “With my daughter, Jada, I could see the impact on her and how creative she is.”

Becky King, director of the program, said families, like Douglas’, see the benefits every month, but they also see a positive impact on literacy in the long-term. She said a study performed by IU Southeast showed children who’ve participated in the program for more than two years enter kindergarten with a higher reading readiness than their peers who haven’t.

“We know a successful reader is more likely to be a lifelong learner,” King said. “That’s what we’re really shooting for.”

Dani said she relocated to New Albany from Michigan. She said by the time she got here, Jada was too old for the program. But when she learned she was expecting Douglas, she was glad he’d be able to take advantage of the program.

At Floyd Memorial Hospital, babies are automatically signed up for the Imagination Library. King said since Floyd County’s program started in 2009, more than 250,000 books have been sent to children every month.

The books also have extra information in the back for parents to help children get the most out of stories, whether it’s games to play or pictures to identify. Dani said she always gets into the stories with her kids, using different voices for different characters when she reads aloud.

“I think it kind of gets the creative juices going and helps you think outside of the box,” Dani said. “With my daughter, when she gets bored, the first thing she does is write a story.”

King said the program was initially supported by local groups, including the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County, who gave them a grant for $75,000 to start it up. She said she’s grateful for that support.

However, it still costs about $90,000 to pay for all the books, and the more children who register, the more the price goes up. She said they’re supported through the New Albany-Floyd County Education Foundation, Metro United Way and a lot of private donors, but they’re always looking for more backing. The Horseshoe Foundation has also continued to support the program, giving $375,000 to it in total.

King said she hopes the program continues to thrive, not for its own sake, but for the kids who have a new story to read every month.

“The great thing right now to think about is the milestone we just hit,” she said. “We now have more than 3,500 children getting books in the mail, and that’s 85 percent of the eligible children in our community.”

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Source: News and Tribune, https://bit.ly/2hpQ9ET

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Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., https://www.newsandtribune.com


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