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Dolly's reading program has life-long impact for children

Thousands of Warren County children — many of them now adults in prominent, high-earning occupations — can thank Dolly Parton for sparking their early success in reading and writing.

Parton, the music and movie superstar who rose to fame from a one-room cabin in the Smoky Mountains, created Imagination Library, sending age-appropriate books free every month to the youngest kids in Sevier County. Her innovation in promoting early childhood reading touched off similar programs across America and in several foreign countries.

But the second landing place for Parton’s idea was Warren County, said veteran educator Christie Allison speaking as guest presenter Thursday at The Rotary Club of McMinnville.

“Even some 4-year-olds know about when their book will come in the mail,” Allison told the Rotarians at their weekly luncheon program at Central Church of Christ.

Expectant moms reading to their unborn child can enliven a relationship with words and sounds, the Rotary speaker said. “Researchers have found that mothers reading has a positive effect on the baby in the womb.” And that advantage gives them a head start in learning and in life, she affirmed.

Parton’s original vision for Imagination Library was quickly absorbed into Tennessee’s early childhood literacy campaign and re-branded as the Governor’s Books from Birth program. From its inception in the mid-1990s, communities have sent books monthly to children from birth to age 5, totally free and without any limits for family income. In Warren County, parents can sign up by calling the Southern Standard at 473-2191 or the school system central office at 668-4022. 

The Southern Standard accepted the opportunity and challenge of serving as the first flagship in Middle Tennessee for Books from Birth and donated the administrative and financial support to roll out and expand the effort in Warren County.    

Through its regular, annual contribution, McMinnville’s Noon Rotary Club is one of the sustaining sponsors.

Allison highlights the life-long advantages of early mastery of reading when she appears this week in WCPI’s “Focus” interview program. The half-hour discussion airs on Public Radio 91.3 Tuesday at 5 p.m., Wednesday at 5 a.m., Thursday at 1 p.m., and Friday at 1 a.m.