A bag holding 60 children’s books can be very heavy.
Susie Schmaltz, Rugby representative for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, packed all the books a child living in the Rugby Public School District could receive from the program from birth through age five.
“Feel this,” Schmaltz said. “This shows the impact Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library can have on a child age zero to five in Rugby.”
The free program mails one book per month to children whose families sign up to receive them. By the time the children reach the program’s end and prepare for kindergarten, they’ll have received 60 books.
Dolly Parton founded the Imagination Library through the Dollywood Foundation in Sevier County, Tenn. in 1995.
Parton’s father inspired the library, according to information on imaginationlibrary.com.
“Before he passed away, my Daddy told me the Imagination Library was probably the most important thing I had ever done,” Parton said on the website. “I can’t tell you how much that meant to me because I created the Imagination Library as a tribute to my Daddy. He was the smartest man I have ever known but I know in my heart his inability to read probably kept him from fulfilling all of his dreams.”
The website also cites research from a variety of sources on the importance of reading to young children.
“The single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read at home prior to beginning school,” a quote on the website from the National Commission on Reading states.
Schmaltz said as the program expanded throughout the USA and four other countries, former North Dakota First Lady Betsy Dalrymple took notice.
“Something Betsy Dalrymple said made such an impact when this program started in our town,” Schmaltz noted. “She said, ‘I realize in our state, we don’t re-invent the wheel.’ This program was already started. (Dalrymple) didn’t need to start anything new. She chose a good program to be a part of. And we had such a base, we grew instantly. I think there are only two or three counties that don’t have this in our state.”
Schmaltz said Rugby residents learned of the program from Dalrymple at the North Dakota School Board convention in 2010. Schmaltz then created a committee to start the program in Rugby. In 2012, children living in the Rugby Public School District began receiving books.
This year, government officials throughout the country have designated March as Dolly Parton Imagination Library Month.
In Rugby, Mayor Sue Steinke issued a proclamation recently to recognize Dolly Parton Imagination Library Month.
“Dolly Parton has a whole committee of people who go through all the books that are printed every year,” Schmaltz said. “They choose books that are always high quality, non-confrontational and optimistic, very wonderful literature that is hard to find in this mass of (information). There’s so much out there but so much you don’t know if you want your children to read.”
“This is safe, and when they leave the program, they have 60 books,” Schmaltz said. “You put them in a cute little box and mark them (with the child’s name) and they have their name on the back of each book. Each book is going to be theirs,” Schmaltz added.
“So, when families tell me, ‘I only want one set,’ being the mother of four children, I’m thinking, ‘No, you don’t. You want four sets,” Schmaltz said. “Because someday, your child is going to have a child of their own. These are going to become their favorite books and they’re going to want to share them.”
Schmaltz said the Imagination Library mails the books out to children according to their age.
Picking up a small book made of durable cardboard, Schmaltz said, “This one for example, is a hard covered, hard-page book that a toddler can use. It’s been proven that if you start to read to a child from the age of zero, the tracking is there,” she said. “They may not let you read the whole page, but it doesn’t matter. They love it.”
“I took the whole library and put it in a bag,” Schmaltz said. “The last book is called, ‘Kindergarten, Here We Come.’ Dolly knows how to choose by ages. She starts with ‘The Little Engine That Could.’ It’s a classic every child should read – very rhythmic, fun, and ends with ‘Hello, Kindergarten.’ It’s really neat.”
“There are so many programs you can get books from, but they arrive at a school or they arrive from a store, and they’re not giving (children) that love of reading from home. And when that book comes in, little children, two and three year olds run to get the mail with you and they get so excited,” Schmaltz added. “My grandkids, they say, ‘Grandma, look what came.’”
According to the library’s website, 154,142,135 books had been mailed to children between its inception in 1995 and February 2021.
Families with children age birth through five residing in the Rugby Public School District can sign up for the program by visiting www.imaginationlibrary.com, clicking “check availability” and filling out an online registration form.
More information is available on Facebook at Rugby Imagination Library, and by phone at 776-6023.