Dolly Parton's Imagination Library has rolled into Cape Ann, providing its youngest residents with an opportunity to amass a home library of 60 children's books at no cost to families. 

Gloucester, the nation's oldest seaport, succeeded in being among the first communities in Massachusetts to be part of one of the largest literacy programs in the world as the 75-year-old country music star's initiative grows.  The Imagination Library reached a milestone when it surpassed its 150th millionth book sent out in December.

The nonprofit Pathways for Children in Gloucester will oversee this initiative to serve families in Gloucester, Rockport, Essex and Manchester. All that is required is that a child — age birth to 5 —  be registered with the program, and after that, an age-appropriate book will be sent each month in the mail. 

Parents may sign up their children at imaginationlibrary.com/usa/affiliate/MACAPEANN.

The Imagination Library received a Best Practice Award from the U.S. Library of Congress for addressing social barriers to literacy. 

Eric Mitchell, president & CEO of Pathways for Children, said reading readiness starts well before a child enters kindergarten.

"Early literacy skills begin at birth, and are built through playing, singing, talking, sharing books, and telling stories. These kinds of activities are critical to help children thrive in their earliest years and set them on a path to being confident and capable learners for a lifetime, said Mitchell. "This partnership supports our commitment to early literacy and, with the help of the Imagination Library, allows us to gift a carefully selected book monthly to every child in Cape Ann from birth to 5 years old. But more importantly, we are gifting a legacy of literacy to the next generation in our community."

That gift can translate into a home library of 60 children's books if a child is registered as a newborn.    

The first book gifted is the beloved "The Little Engine That Could" by Watty Piper, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2019 with an introduction by Parton herself.

State Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, a literacy advocate, spearheaded the two-year effort to join Parton's Imagination Library. 

She and the other partnering organizations know that Gloucester stands to be a community to start that ripple effect across the Commonwealth as word spreads about the benefits of this book-gifting organization.

"If you can read, you can do anything," said Ferrante. "This is an accomplishment and we are excited for the fact that local children are going to have the ability to start their own home library no matter what their income."

This program is made available through a partnership of The Dollywood Foundation, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Pathways for Children, the First R Foundation, and the City of Gloucester. Cape Ann's participation is made possible by state funding from the CARES Act and the fiscal year 2021 budget.

To date, the Imagination Library mails more than 18 million children's book each year in the United States, and has a growing presence in six countries.

"By mailing high quality, age-appropriate books directly to their homes, Dolly wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create. Moreover, she could ensure that every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income," according to a mission statement.

Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken thanked all those involved. 

"We are a community that values reading," she said. "I encourage all parents to take advantage of this amazing opportunity that complements the incredible programs offered at (our local libraries). Together, these opportunities will help build strong foundations and foster a love of learning for the next generation of students."

BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

What: Parents in Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester and Essex can help build a library of books for their children from birth age to 5 by registering them for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. Each month will arrive in the mail for the child.

When and where: Registration has opened at imaginationlibrary.com/usa/affiliate/MACAPEANN

How much: Free.

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