Chicago’s Open Books Partners With Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

New program delivers free, age-appropriate books to kids in Chicago

Open Books, in an exclusive partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, is delivering free, brand-new books to Chicago children under the age of five.

The Imagination Library program has enrolled nearly 1,500 children in the Austin, Garfield Park, Little Village and North Lawndale communities. Open Books, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting and strengthening literacy, plans to steadily expand the program until it is available throughout Chicago.

The enrollment process is simple. Parents or guardians provide the child’s name, date of birth and address; free, new, age-appropriate, high-quality books start arriving by mail – addressed to the child – each month until the child turns five. Parents can sign up children as early as a newborn’s due date, and each child can receive up to 60 books in total, all before they enter kindergarten.

Registration for Chicago residents who live in the Austin, Garfield Park, Little Village or North Lawndale areas is available at

Anise Rowe, a South Austin resident and mother of seven, has enrolled three of her children in the program. After four months she says she’s already seeing positive effects. “It helps prepare my children for school,” she says. “We read a book every night. We don’t watch as much TV. Comprehension-wise, I’ve definitely seen growth.”

The Need

 A child’s most significant brain growth takes place from birth to age five, and by age three roughly 85 percent of a child’s brain is formed – making the pre-kindergarten years critical to the development of the skills a child needs to succeed in school and life.

Yet more than 60 percent of low-income households have no children’s books. And while the average middle-class family has about 13 books for each child, in poor neighborhoods there is typically only one book per 300 children.

“We know that kids who have books at home in the pre-school years are far more likely to be ready for kindergarten, and to graduate from high school and college,” says Eric Johnson, Open Books’ Executive Director. “But too many Chicago kids don’t have books at home. We intend to change that.”

The Chicago Vision

 In every community where it is available, the Imagination Library partners with a local nonprofit, which administers the program and raises awareness among parents. Working with those partners, the Imagination Library has delivered more than 120 million books to more than 1.3 million children in five countries. Every book is delivered by mail and addressed to the child – often the first mail a child receives. Children in Chicagoland have not had access to the program – until now.

“The Dollywood Foundation is excited to partner with Open Books to bring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to Chicago,” said Pam Hunsaker, Regional Director. “Open Books has brought thousands of books to children in the Chicago area and we look forward to bringing thousands more.”

Open Books’ partners in this effort to expand access to books in Chicago include the Steans Family Foundation, Illinois Action for Children, Lawndale Christian Health Center and the Chicago Public Library.

Open Books has also charged itself with raising funds – at about $25 per year per child, or less than $3 per book – to make sure the program remains free to Chicagoans who need it most. Open Books encourages anyone who wants to help make books a reality for more children to contact staff.

For more information or to register an eligible child, visit:


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