Hundreds of children in Keighley are set to receive a free monthly book in a scheme originally launched by singer Dolly Parton.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library will deliver a free age-appropriate book every month to children aged from birth to their fifth birthday who live in the Keighley Central, Keighley East and Keighley West wards.
Parents or carers can sign up their children via: https://imaginationlibrary.com/uk/affiliate/WYKKEIGHLEY/
The project has been spearheaded by former Keighley West Labour district councillor Adrian Farley, Labour Keighley East district councillor Caroline Firth, and Parkwood Primary School executive head teacher Dick Ballantine. The trio has been working alongside partners including schools, midwives, children’s centres, Keighley College, Strong Close Nursery School and KAWACC – which will all be able to sign up children with parental consent.
Under the scheme, all the books are carefully selected and tailored to the age of the recipients. They include traditional stories and rhymes, books by well-known authors and illustrators and a mix of non-fiction and newly published titles.
Strong Close Nursery School, on Airedale Road, paid for 14 children to trial the scheme over the past few months and found the books were so well received that it now plans to register more pupils. Head teacher Helen Jones said: “We’ve discovered, as we expected, that it really promotes literacy to our school community for a relatively low cost per child. Our governors can see the benefit and are really behind it as school.”
The rollout across the wider Keighley area costs £25 a year for each child who signs up, and fundraising will be needed to ensure the programme’s future longer term.
Mr Farley said: “We have enough funding for the first year or so, during which time we look forward to be able to offer family reading sessions through partners involved in the scheme. But for now we just want to encourage people to sign up, resulting in a library of 60 books if a child is signed up from birth to their fifth birthday.
“Reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success – more than family circumstances, parents’ educational backgrounds or income. Even just looking at pictures and sharing a book together for 10 minutes a day increases bonding between families and the literacy levels of children, making them better prepared for school and ensuring they have better life chances.”
Dolly originally established the not-for-profit Dolly Parton Imagination Library in America in 1995. She said: “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.”
Her programme is now international and gives a book a month to nearly two million children.
Cllr Firth said: “This is a wonderful scheme that has brought so much to communities around the globe, and we’re elated to have brought it to Keighley.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work to get to this stage and we couldn’t have pulled it off without generous funding from the Bradford Opportunity Area, Keighley Big Local, Imagination Library, Bradford Council and some individual schools.”
Kathryn Loftus, programme director for Bradford Opportunity Area, said: “This is a fantastic project that will give enrolled children from birth to five high-quality, age-appropriate books in the post at no cost to them. This aims to significantly increase school readiness by increasing age-appropriate books at home to inspire parents and carers to read more with their children. The longer-term benefit is to produce lasting impact on learning at school.”
Helen Jones and Dick Ballantine
Cllr Caroline Firth and Adrian Farley