First Lady Visits Grundy County in Support of Imagination Library and Read 20 Family Book Club


First Lady Crissy Haslam and Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF) President Theresa Carl were in Tracy City today promoting two Tennessee programs related to childhood literacy: the Imagination Library and the First Lady’s Read 20 Family Book Club.

Praising local Imagination Library volunteers in each county for the success of the wildly popular books-for-preschoolers program, Mrs. Haslam and Ms. Carl thanked supporters and pushed for continued community support at an event held at the Dutch Maid Bakery.

“Imagination Library volunteers and supporters generously give of their time and resources to promote early literacy for children in their communities,” Mrs. Haslam said. “They are vital to the program’s success.”

All of Tennessee’s 407,000 children under age five have access to the Imagination Library, and an Imagination Library program affiliate exists in all 95 counties in the state. Created by Dolly Parton in 1996 as a gift to the children in her hometown of Sevierville, Tenn., the Imagination Library mails a new, high-quality, age-appropriate book every month to registered children, from birth until age five – at no cost to families and regardless of income. Nearly 17 million books have been delivered since the GBBF’s inception in October 2004.

Approximately $12 annually (or $1 per book) provides for the purchase and delivery of 12 books to one child.

With funding support from the Tennessee General Assembly, various foundations, individual donors, and a host of private corporate sponsors, the GBBF matches all funds raised by each of Tennessee’s Imagination Library program affiliates – a dynamic public-private partnership unlike any other in the U.S.

“The dedicated volunteers here in Tracy City and Grundy County are the reason the Imagination Library reaches so many local preschoolers,” Ms. Carl said. “We’re here today to thank those hard workers and encourage more people in the area to support this indispensable program.”

Currently, 46 percent of Tennessee third graders are reading on grade level. In a concerted effort to help the Tennessee Department of Education reach its goal of 60 percent of children reading proficiently by the third grade, Mrs. Haslam started her Read 20 Family Book Club last summer. The initiative encourages families to read together for at least 20 minutes a day by featuring a “book of the month” selection, as well as featuring activities to coincide with each book of the month for families to connect through fun, educational time together.

“We are grateful to have the full support and passionate advocacy of First Lady Haslam,” Ms. Carl said. “Along with sharing her READ20 Family Book Club, she regularly travels to schools, churches, civic clubs and town halls across Tennessee touting the importance of the Imagination Library for every child in the state, and it’s helping increase enrollment in those places.”

Multiple studies have demonstrated the universally positive impact of having books in the home. Imagination Library participants from both low-income and middle-income households arrive to kindergarten more prepared to learn than non-participants. Children who have not developed some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out later. In a recent study conducted by the Urban Child Institute, research showed that programs like the Imagination Library lead to early childhood language development, school readiness, grade progression, on-time graduation and college attendance.

“Tennessee is fortunate to have the Imagination Library as a unique resource to prepare children for a bright future,” she said. “Children who participate in the program are better prepared for school and have better-developed skills in reading, speaking, thinking, and social skills. Reading—by itself—is not a magic key to change. It is what reading enables us to learn and to do that is critical.”

Among U.S. states with active Imagination Library programs, Tennessee stands alone as the only state with participation in every one of its 95 counties. The GBBF works to increase enrollment in the program, estimating that close to 200,000 eligible children (age five and under) are not yet registered. “We’re working diligently to continue spreading the word about this amazing program, which is a gift of up to 60 brand new books for every child in the state of Tennessee, from birth until age five – all at no cost to families,” said Ms. Carl. “We can all be part of equipping a generation of kids with the tools they’ll need to excel and achieve from the first day of school.”

For more information about the Read 20 Family Book Club visit,, follow @Read20TN on Twitter, or go to your local public library.