Books for Kids: Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library returns to Fort McMurray thanks to Red Cross grant

By: Caroline Wagner, communications advisor, Canadian Red Cross
For a four-year-old child, receiving a package in the mail is about as exciting as it gets. So imagine the delight when a book is delivered every month.
That’s the idea behind the Imagination Library of Wood Buffalo in northern Alberta. The organization delivers an age-appropriate book monthly to more than 1,800 children, from birth until they reach the age of five.
A toddler sitting on a couch reading a book“The more you read to your child, the more of a positive impact it will have on their emotional and literacy needs,” says the organization’s chair, Julianne North Bourque. “And when they reach school, they’re not behind in learning capability. They have a large vocabulary and more confidence.”
The Imagination Library is the brainchild of country singer and philanthropist Dolly Parton, who was inspired by her own father’s inability to read. In 1995, she started a literacy program for children. Today, the program operates in five countries, with 1.7 million books distributed each month.
The Rotary Club of Fort McMurray started up Wood Buffalo’s Imagination Library 13 years ago. Last winter, they had to suspend the program when funding dried up, but thanks to matching grants from the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund through the Canadian Red Cross, and another from Telus, the program started again in the fall.
North Bourque says it’s been particularly helpful to young families during COVID-19.
“It’s just a frightening, scary time for everybody and it’s hard. If you get something as simple as a book in the mail once a month, you get the bonding, you get some normalcy. It’s part of the routine and it’s creating a bigger benefit down the road that they’re not even aware of.”
The Imagination Library serves urban families living in Fort McMurray, as well as communities throughout the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which covers an area almost as big as Ireland.
North Bourque points out that in Fort McMurray, a lot of parents are shift workers who work 12-hour days and face long commutes, making it challenging to participate in all aspects of family life. But with the Imagination Library, she adds, “you can read to your child at bedtime. You don’t have to worry about being somewhere at a particular time.”
The initiative is proving successful. North Bourque says she’s heard of children as young as three being able to recognize their name and pick out their book when they go to pick it up with their family at the local post office. “I love hearing those stories!”
She adds that 75 per cent of the books they deliver feature Canadian content. “Books on hockey, travelling across Canada. We try to show diversity, and they’re all non-denominational.” 
North Bourque says parents love the program. “They’re always amazed at the quality of the books and how much their children love them.”
The Canadian Red Cross is funding this project thanks to the generous support of the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund granting program.
Related stories:  
comments powered by Disqus