Since 2019, every child born in Tamworth has been offered a membership to Dolly Parton’s literacy program for disadvantaged families, The Imagination Library. In just four short years, the results have been staggering.
In a new ABC report and an anecdotal reflection from country music duo O’Shea, the program has changed children’s, families and teachers’ lives.
“It was after our second daughter August had just aged out of the program, and about five years ago, Jay [O’Shea] sat down at our dining room table at breakfast and said, ‘I want Dolly Parton's Imagination Library to be massive in Australia,’” Mark O’Shea wrote on Facebook on Thursday (27 July). “Here we are all these years later, and it’s so beautiful to see it not only happening but spreading like wildfire!”
In Tamworth, over 3,200 children receive a book in their mailbox every month, from birth until they’re five years old. Mark O’Shea continued, “Massive thanks to the Tamworth Regional Council, United Way Australia and all the local sponsors for their passion, sharing in Jay’s vision and believing in this program! If you’re in a town that wants to get on board, hit us up! Let’s gooo!!!”
Before the program came to Tamworth, speech pathologist Kelly Makepeace recalled to the ABC, “A number of communities in the Tamworth local government area had children that were three to four times more likely to be developmentally vulnerable in language and communication.”
With the program beginning while children are still babies, Makepeace has seen them grow up loving and valuing reading.
A Tamworth mother, Jody Peters, said that her “older two didn't really have those early literacy skills and development, whereas I feel the younger two do have those skills,” thanks to the Imagination Library program.
Claire Galea, a researcher with United Way, has found that 65% of children in Tamworth were read to by their parents, which is “nearly double the average Australian child”. You can watch the ABC report below.
Dolly Parton founded the Imagination Library in 1995. The program supports all children until age five, regardless of family income.