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Country music legend and philanthropist Dolly Parton talks up Imagination Library during Ohio visit

 Dolly Parton and First Lady Fran DeWine discuss Parton's free book program at DeWine's luncheon at Ohio State University.
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
Dolly Parton and First Lady Fran DeWine discuss Parton's free book program at DeWine's luncheon at Ohio State University.

Country artist and philanthropist Dolly Parton was in Columbus Tuesday to support her Imagination Library, a project that sends books to young kids in an effort to encourage literacy at a young age.

Parton was the special guest at a luncheon at Ohio State University with Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine.

Large multicolor floral centerpieces graced the tables inside the Archie Griffin ballroom at the Ohio Union as Parton took the stage to thunderous applause.

DeWine hosted a conversation with Parton about her Imagination Library program. Ohio has expanded that program, since Gov. Mike DeWine took office, so every child under the age of five — regardless of their family's income or address — can receive a new book every month.

Parton talked about her modest beginnings with her large family in her hometown near Sevierville, Tennessee. As she explained, her father was sort of embarrassed by the fact that he didn't know how to read. So, she said she and her dad started the Imagination Library 27 years ago in their Tennessee community, providing a new book to children younger than five every month. Since then, the program has gone global.

“We had no idea when we started this that it’s become what it has become and we are hoping, by the end of the year, it’s going to be over 200 million books," Parton said.

Parton said the children who participate in the program look forward to getting the book each month.

“They love getting a little book with their name on it in the mailbox once a month. And so they are going to grab that out and they are going to grab somebody and make them sit down and read it to them," Parton said.

She said reading the books brings families together which she said is important because strong family ties contribute to a child's well-being.

The Imagination Library program has been expanded in Ohio since Mike DeWine took office. It used to be that the program centered on providing books for low-income children. But now every Ohio child under 5-years-old can receive a free book every month. The latest numbers show that 45% of eligible Ohio kids receive the books but Fran DeWine said she’s hoping that will increase as parents start registering before they bring infants home from hospitals.

Any Ohio parent who wants to register their child for the program can do so by clicking here.

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.