Policy Resource

Tennessee Provides Books to Children Beginning at Birth

Sep 20, 2016

A partnership between the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF) and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is improving Tennessee children’s school readiness by providing high-quality, age-appropriate books to children birth to five.

All of Tennessee’s approximately 410,000 children under age five are eligible to participate in the program, which mails children a new book every month at no cost to families. In July 2018, 284,799 children were participating and a total of 616,953 five-year old’s have graduated from the Imagination Library. Since the partnership began in 2004, over 33 million books have been delivered to Tennessee children. Every child in foster care in the state of Tennessee is included in the partnership which was made possible through a collaboration of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and the Verizon Foundation.

The program costs $60 to provide the entire Imagination Library to a child, which includes 60 books over a five-year period. Funding for GBBF comes from the Tennessee General Assembly, individual donors, small businesses, and private corporate partners. The GBBF, through an annual state grant, funds 50% of the program cost. The other 50% is funded through 95 local affiliate programs. Some affiliate partners include the United Way, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, and Amazon fulfillment. The local affiliate programs are also responsible for enrolling children in the program and promoting the program within communities. Imagination Library and the Dollywood Foundation are responsible for selecting books, managing pricing, and distributing books.

The program aims to foster a healthy love of reading, develop proficient vocabulary, and increase school readiness through regular at-home interactions with books.

A report conducted for the year of 2016 found that children who were enrolled in the program for longer periods of time from Shelby Country, which includes Memphis, were more likely to score higher on academic assessments through early grades. Further, the research indicated that students were more likely to have increased school attendance and less likely to be suspended.

Updated July 2018.

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