Policy Resource

Tennessee Provides Books to Children Beginning at Birth

Sep 20, 2016

A recent evaluation conducted in Shelby County, which includes Memphis, found that children who participated in the program had stronger early childhood reading habits and higher reading readiness scores at kindergarten entry than children who did not participate.

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 407,000 children under age five are eligible to participate in the program, which mails children a new book every month at no cost to families. More than 26 million books have been delivered since the partnership began in 2004. Currently 61% of eligible children throughout the state’s 95 counties are enrolled, and over 501,000 children have graduated from the program.

The program costs $24 annually per child to administer. 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 recent evaluation conducted in Shelby County, which includes Memphis, found that children who participated in the program had stronger early childhood reading habits and higher reading readiness scores at kindergarten entry than children who did not participate. It also showed that participation increased both the amount of time parents spent reading with their children and the level of child interest in books.

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