Children’s book-gifting program celebrates first anniversary in Whitman County

The United Way of Whitman County brings the gift of reading through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program



An employee stacks children’s books on a shelf at Palouse Treasures, Jan. 2020.

NASRULAH AL AJMI, Evergreen reporter

For one year now, the United Way of Whitman County has brought the gift of reading to children throughout the county through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

The Dolly Parton Imagination Library, an international book-gifting program, provides one free, age-appropriate book per month to children from birth to age 5, regardless of their family’s income.

Wanda Terry, UWWC board of directors member, said that one of the UWWC’s goals is to support programs that help children prepare for school. Reading aloud to preschoolers at home, Terry said, is one way to ensure they start off school with success.

“Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library mails the books directly to a child’s home, addressed with the child’s name and the parent’s name, too,” Terry said.

The Dolly Parton Imagination Library was established in Dolly Parton’s home state of Tennessee in 1995. According to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library website, the program has since grown throughout the US and internationally to Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the Republic of Ireland.

Today, the program has registered over two million kids and gifted 200 million books.

The UWWC brought the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to Whitman County in March 2022.

“It is such a privilege to enroll children in the program,” UWWC president Christine Oakley said.

The UWWC also secures the funds for the books, each of which costs about $2.24, Oakley said. The Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction subsidizes 50% of book costs in Washington, Oakley said, so the Dolly Parton Imagination Library pays just $1.12 per book.

Oakley said there has been generous support for the UWWC from both individuals and organizations like METER Foundation, Pullman Regional Hospital’s Women Leadership Guild, Kiwanis, Good Deeds Mortgage and Walmart.

The UWWC also partnered with Whitman County Library, Neill Public Library, Community Child Care Center and Pullman Regional Hospital to help enroll Whitman County children in the program, Oakley said.

“After a year of speaking with parents about the program, it is the joy the program brings to kids and the people who read to them that has a lasting impression,” Oakley said.

Oakley said another of the UWWC’s goals is to enroll all children aged 0 to 5 in Whitman County: a total of about 2000 children.

They intended to enroll half of that total, Oakley said, and with 642 children enrolled as of this February, they are approximately two-thirds of the way to meeting this goal.

“March is Reading Across America month, so we are optimistic about reaching our goal,” Oakley said.

Supporters can donate to a fundraising campaign for the program on UWWC’s website. Oakley said that one $27 donation can pay for one year’s worth of books for two Whitman County children.

“As long as Dolly and her Dollywood Foundation wants children to read, I’m certain that the Dolly Parton Imagination Library will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2045,” Oakley said.