DESOTO PARISH, LA (KSLA) - More than a million American preschoolers are enrolled to get books in the mail - for free.
That's right, free.
Now the program is expanding to children up to age 5 in DeSoto.
The launch of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in that parish will be announced at 10 a.m. Oct. 19 at the Calhoun Center, 515 Louisiana St. in Mansfield.
During the gathering, the book "Llama Llama Red Pajama" will be read to four families with small children. And each family will be given a copy to take home.
"Thirty-four percent of children in DeSoto Parish entering kindergarten are unprepared," United Way of Northwest Louisiana reports. "Research has shown that the number of books in a child's home is significantly linked to reading scores. The more books, the better the score."
Partnering with United Way in bringing Parton's reading program to DeSoto are BHP and DeSoto School District.
The program's Northwest Louisiana affiliate already serves 2,240 youngsters in Bossier, Caddo, Natchitoches and Red River parishes. Statewide, 18,404 are enrolled.
"School readiness may very well be the greatest educational challenge of our generation," DeSoto schools Superintendent Cade Brumley said in a statement. "Only when communities take active ownership for this issue will we see transformational change."
In 2014, 77 percent of Louisiana fourth-graders did not read proficiently.
Now 37 percent of Louisiana fourth-graders lack basic reading skills and 71 percent are below proficient, according to Kids Count.
And from 1992, to 2003, the National Center for Education Statistics says, the percentage of adults who lack basic literacy skills:
- Held at 12 percent in Bossier Parish
- Dropped from 24 percent to 16 percent in Caddo Parish
- Rose from 20 percent to 22 percent in DeSoto Parish
- Dropped from 24 percent to 18 percent in Natchitoches Parish, and,
- Dropped from 26 percent to 23 percent in Red River Parish.
Parton started her program in 1995 to foster a love of reading among preschoolers and ensure access to books in her home county in Tennessee. The effort has since delivered more than 72 million free books to children in four countries.
Each child enrolled in Dolly Parton's Imagination Library has a personal library by the time they start kindergarten.
And the book selections are age appropriate.
For example, the one spotlighted Sunday on the program's Facebook page is "The Little Engine That Could."
Registration can only be completed by a child's parent or legal guardian.
The child must be a resident of the parish in which the program is offered.
Parents' other responsibilities include:
- notifying United Way of Northwest Louisiana if your address changes; and,
- when the books arrive in your mailbox, read with your child.