Wed, Jan. 22

Imagination Library inspires love of reading

Children read books during story time at the Camp Verde Community Library. According to Kathy Hellman, the library’s director, prospective readers are not required to be regular attendees of a particular library, but that they have access to books at home. VVN/Bill Helm

Children read books during story time at the Camp Verde Community Library. According to Kathy Hellman, the library’s director, prospective readers are not required to be regular attendees of a particular library, but that they have access to books at home. VVN/Bill Helm

VERDE VALLEY – It costs about $25 per year to purchase and mail a child books for the Verde Valley Imagination Library program.

But families don’t pay a cent.

A brainchild of Dolly Parton, the Imagination Library began in Sevier County, Tennessee as a way to inspire a love of reading in children ages 0-5.

In 2012, the Rotary Club of Sedona brought the Imagination Library concept to Sedona, then expanded to the Beaver Creek School District in 2015.

Since 2016, Imagination Library has been Verde-wide. Any qualifying child who lives in Beaver Creek, Camp Verde, Clarkdale, Cornville, Cottonwood, Jerome, Sedona, Verde Village or the Village of Oak Creek can register to receive books starting 8-10 weeks after enrollment.

For a child enrolled at birth, this means about 60 books. Each book is selected by the Imagination Library’s Book Selection Committee, a panel of early childhood literacy experts.

Imagination and inspiration

The committee reviews hundreds of potential titles for inclusion in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, according to Jean Barton, director of Verde Valley’s Imagination Library. About 11 of the books are in both English and Spanish. Imagination and inspiration are the primary themes and focus of the books.

Each month, participating children receive a book in the mail. Verde Valley’s Imagination Library – VVIL – pays for the books and mails them, about $2.10 each. Each book is personalized with the child’s name and mailed directly to the child’s home by the distributor.

Parents can enroll their children at any community library, or online at A prospective reader is not required to use a particular library, said Camp Verde Community Library Director Kathy Hellman.

“Of course we would love to have them visit CVCL regularly,” Hellman said. “But the important thing is that Camp Verde children have access to books at home. Children who engage with books at home have a greater potential to develop a love of reading and learning that leads to success in school and life.”

Beaver Creek currently has 170 children registered in VVIL. According to Bonnie Best a librarian with the Beaver Creek Public Library, children’s brains “are very active and soaking up knowledge in the early years, before 3 and 5 years old especially.”

“There are studies showing that when parents read to their children it results in improved conceptual understanding, associating words with objects, people animals,” Best said.

VVIL registration forms are available at the Beaver Creek Public Library. “If parents need help to register their children, there are volunteers in the community available to assist them,” Best said.

Developing good reading habits

The non-profit Imagination Library orders books once a month, keep the addresses up-to-date and raises funds to afford the endeavor, Barton said. The books that VVIL purchases are published specifically for the Imagination Library Program.

Barton said that 90% of a child’s brain pathways for learning develop before kindergarten.

“When babies associate books and reading with pleasure, fun and parental approval, they become hooked,” Barton said. “Cuddling and rocking with dad while he reads out loud in a soothing voice, clapping and cheering when an 8-month old learns to turn pages, pointing and naming pictures together are examples.”

The foundation for reading, Barton said, is oral language skills, such as speaking and listening.

How can you help?

In 2018, the Verde Valley Imagination Library provided close to 1,900 children with 20,000 books. Barton estimates that between 60%-65% of eligible children participate in the program.

In November 2017, Verde Valley Imagination Library began a partnership with the Northern Arizona Healthcare’s Verde Valley Medical Center to give the first book to every newborn and to help parents register in the free book program.

Almost 500 newborns have been enrolled, Barton estimates.

All this on an annual budget of $56,200. It costs $49,500 – about 88 percent of VVIL’s budget – to purchase and mail the books. The Imagination Library asks that the public vote, volunteers and donates to organizations that help parents with young children.

But the Imagination Library has fund raising challenges, as do most non-profit organizations, Barton said.

A $10 donation each month funds four children for a year, $30 each month funds 12 children for a year, $50 each month funds 20 children for a year, Barton said.

Donations are accepted at Or email or for more information.

What Verde Valley parents are saying about the Imagination Library program

Former Camp Verde kindergarten, first grade and special needs preschool teacher Jennifer Jackson is now children’s librarian at the Camp Verde Community Library. But Jackson’s friend Sarah Ellison teaches first grade at Camp Verde Elementary School.

Also a parent, Ellison said that her 1-year-old son “absolutely loves to sit and practice turning the board book pages by himself.”

Ellison also said that “many families use the program because when I ask students to share a book from home they often bring the books that were mailed to them from the Imagination Library.”

Ellison is a member of a Facebook group called Verde Valley Mamas, which she described as an outlet for moms or moms-to-be to “share events, tips, and seek support from other local moms across the Verde Valley on a variety of topics.”

Recently, several Verde Valley Mamas said what they thought of the Verde Valley Imagination Library.

Theresa Metzler: “My son gets a book each month. It’s awesome.”

Torie Lane: “Those books we get are what taught my son to say ‘chicken’ and ‘puppy’ and ‘kitty.’ Now he recognizes them when he sees them and yells out what they are.”

Sarah Ellison: “My year-old son loves to sit and turn the page. I appreciate how they are board books at the beginning too.”

Torie Lane: “We got our first paper page poem book last week and he’s so gentle with it but he tries so hard to read it.”

Cathy Lewis: “I got this for my kids. Every month for every kid and they love it. They get so excited to get books in the mail.”

Dida Quiroz: “I’ve been doing this since my 2-year-old was born and he loves it.”

Alexia Swapp: “My son loves it. I actually will find him just flipping through the pages just to look at the pics.”

Erica Lynn Razo: “Both of my kids are enrolled and we love it too. Any books they grow out [of] or don’t enjoy as much I donate. Totally worth it since we read a book every night before bed. They love to read.”

Cheyene Kuhn: “Both my little ones love it! Every month they get excited to get a new book through the mail. Sometimes we get duplicates but not always. The ones we get duplicates of we donate to others. They have a great choice of books ,too.”

-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42

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