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March 1, 2013

BY TIFFANY HOLLAND / Danville Register & Bee 

In an effort to curb illiteracy in children, Smart Beginnings Danville Pittsylvania has launched Dolly Parton's Imagination Library locally.

The program was launched by the country music singer in 1996 and became so popular that in 2000 she made it possible for it to be replicated in other communities. The goal is to get pre-school age children to read, especially those with economic disadvantages who may not have access to books.

The Imagination Library is a 60 volume set of books that begins with the children's classic "The Little Engine That Could." Each month a new book is mailed to each child enrolled in the program and books are selected by age.

Any preschool children up to age 5 that live in Danville or Pittsylvania County are eligible for the program. All parents have to do is submit a registration form, and books will begin arriving.

There was a launch for the program on Thursday in Cardinal Village in Danville, where Mayor Sherman Saunders read "The Little Engine That Could" to around 30 children in the neighborhood.

"The Imagination Library will provide families with in-home access to high quality books," said Ann Vandervliet Stratton, the executive director of Smart Beginnings. "We want parents and caretakers to read to children every day. Early exposure to language is an easy way to ensure that a child is ready to read by kindergarten."

Smart Beginnings Danville Pittsylvania is a local non-profit geared to early childhood education and helps prepare the region's children for kindergarten. The superintendent of Danville Public Schools has previously said that enrolling every child in a pre-school program - to have at least some schooling before a child enters kindergarten - is something the system is striving for.

Stratton said about 30 children signed up for the Imagination Library on Thursday, but they have enough funding for 250. Smart Beginnings contributes about $27 per child each year. One of the main reasons Parton's non-profit was selected was because of its quality and the five-year distribution plan. United Way of Danville-Pittsylvania County is co-sponsoring the program and will deal with much of the local distribution.

For more information or to sign up for the Imagination Library, contact Smart Beginnings at (434) 797-8887 or United Way at (434) 792-3700.

Holland reports for the Danville Register & Bee.

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