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Dolly Parton wants to send all kids free books, and some Pa. lawmakers want the state to help

A book called ' I Am a Rainbow,' sits above a spread of other books that are part of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library.
Oliver Morrison
90.5 WESA
Dolly Parton's Imagination Library sends free books in the mail to young children

The first five years are critical for a child’s brain development, and reading can have a big effect at that time.

But not everyone has access to reading materials.

Under proposed legislation, thousands more children across the state could get free books mailed to their homes.

Lawmakers in both chambers have introduced bills to expand Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which is a tribute to her father who struggled with reading.

Sen. Carolyn Comitta, D-Chester, said the program can benefit children who, like Parton when she was young, are growing up in rural areas.

“In rural areas, a public library could be miles and miles away,” Comitta said. “And so having the books being delivered right to your doorstep is a very important and, for some families, really helpful way for kids to have access to books.”

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Even non-rural areas might not have access to the program.

“I have a child in Montgomery County who I can’t sign up at my address because there’s no local partnership working on it,” said Rep. Liz Hanbidge, D-Montgomery. “But if my child was in West Chester, he could.”

That’s because the program relies on local partners. The proposed legislation would support this book giveaway in every county.

Local partners would pay for the books and shipping, with the state matching local funding at an estimated $13 per child helped.

The Imagination Library covers administrative fees including publisher negotiations, database maintenance and book selection.

Parents must sign up for the books, and can get books for each child they have up to the age of five.

States including Missouri, Louisiana and Tennessee are already partnered with the Imagination Library.

The Democrats sponsoring the bills don’t see this as a partisan effort.

“This is a child’s development and care issue,” Comitta said. “And I expect to have strong support on both sides of the aisle.”

A list of approved books is posted online.

Sen. John Kane, D-Chester, said the Imagination Library would also boost literacy.

“With only 52% of our third graders scoring proficient or higher on the PSSA for English Language Arts, it’s clear we need to do more,” he said

Forty-four of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have access to the Imagination Library due to partnerships with local nonprofits.