Reading

Ohio’s First Lady Fran DeWine reads “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” to students at Early Head Start in Circleville.

CIRCLEVILLE— Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine took time to read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” to students at Early Head Start this week, taking the time to celebrate efforts to grow participation in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Program.

Pickaway County recently achieved over 50 percent participation across the county for all children ages 0 to 5. Currently, 52 percent of all children are registered to receive their free monthly book.

The Imagination Library Program works by having parents sign up their children, ages 0-5, for the program. They then receive free books each month. The Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library Program partnered with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in 2019 to take the program statewide, which resulted in Pickaway County’s program.

State lawmakers provided $5 million in funding to match county funds so that these books ($2.10 each) are provided at no cost to Ohio families. Nonprofit organizations in each county administer the program.

The program costs $25 per child each year and is funded through the Pickaway County Well-Being Fund through the Pickaway County Community Foundation and other donations.

The books are picked by a national panel through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and are age appropriate and often award winning books. A child less than 1-year-old would receive a different book than say a 3-year-old or 5-year-old.

DeWine said it’s always a fun time coming and reading to the kids while promoting the program.

“It’s pretty amazing how it’s come so far and it’s exciting,” DeWine said. “It’s what we want every county to be like.

It’s fun to be here [to read],” DeWine said. “I want parents to know that it’s absolutely free for the families. It’s important to get kids in the program to become lifelong readers.”

DeWine said she first learned about the Imagination Library from her grandchildren and decided that when her husband, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, was running for office, that this was something she’d like to expand to all of Ohio.

“I was with them when they got their books and I saw their thrill to tear off that plastic and to read it,” she said. “I thought that it was great and if he gets elected, that’s what I want to do, make it available to every single child in Ohio, not just a few counties.”

DeWine spoke about the impact that reading and the books can have on children.

“From a scientific point of view, 80 percent of a child’s brain is developed by the time they’re three years old and we don’t want to waste those three years,” she said.

“Cincinnati Children’s Hospital did a study and after giving those children books for those three years, they came up 15 points on the kindergarten readiness scale. If kids can start ready for kindergarten, they’ll be a lot more successful.

“We really want them to read with families; whether it’s with parents or siblings or grandparents, it creates a bond, which I think is so important, and it creates a lifelong love of reading and learning.”

DeWine read from a quote Parton wrote in the back of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

“Every child should hear, see and touch books like ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar;’” this is where the dreams of children are born,” she said.

DeWine said her goal was to reach 50 percent statewide participation by the end of this year.

“Every week or so, we’re coming up a point,” she said. “I don’t know that we’re going to make it, but every county is working toward it and Pickaway County has done an amazing job.”

David Fausnaugh, executive director for the Pickaway County Public Library, said it was very exciting to be up over 50 percent participation for the county.

“When we started this a little over three years ago, we thought this would be popular, we knew it was a great program and the response has been overwhelming,” he said. “We’re at 52 percent now and we’re looking to try to grow that.”

The library has partnered with the Pickaway County Community Foundation Well Being Fund, Both Noon and Sunrise Rotary, as well as many other organizations who have contributed to the program.

“We’re so thankful to the community for all the support we’ve gotten from the organizations, businesses and individuals who have sent in checks individually,” Fausnaugh said.

“All of that is needed to make this possible and we appreciate all of it.”

To sign a child up for the program, which is completely free and provides one book a month every year until their fifth birthday, do so in person at the library or through the library’s website at pickawaylib.org.

“Kids that stop into the library, we try to get them signed up right there,” Fausnaugh said. “Registering shouldn’t be a problem.”

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