Books for Babes

Imagine a new book mailed to every child, every month, until they are five years old. That’s what Dolly Parton did.

Now imagine literacy in every Yukon family. That’s what the Rendezvous Rotary Club did. The result is the Yukon Dolly Parton Imagination Library, central to a family literacy program, for 430 Yukon children.

It started in 1996 when Dolly Parton wanted to foster a love of reading in preschoolers and their families, regardless of income.

The Dollywood Foundation established the Imagination Library in North America and United Kingdom.

In 2007, Rendezvous Rotary used Community Development Funds to initiate a Canadian pilot of the Imagination Library in the communities. Two years later it was expanded to include Whitehorse.

Parents or grandparents can register babies up to one year old through daycares, health and social service centres or First Nations, or through the Yukon Literacy Coalition (YLC).

“An address and age is all that’s needed,” says Rotarian Claire Derome, caretaker of the local program.

A national selection committee chooses the English, French and Spanish books, with new ones added annually so siblings don’t receive the same titles. The Penguin Group supplies the books and Rendezvous Rotary covers the postage.

“We’ve had 80 per cent uptake among kids born in the Yukon, compared to 25 per cent in the U.S. or U.K.,” says Derome. “Outside Dolly Parton’s home state of Tennessee, the Yukon is the only jurisdiction with a 100-per-cent offering.”

She credits the success to having Yukon Government support and a strong community base.

Because, as Derome notes, “It’s okay to give a book to a child, but it doesn’t help unless there’s someone to read it to them.”

This is where YLC comes in. The Coalition trains literacy champions in each community to provide not only books, but encouragement and opportunities for families to read.

Communities host adult/child reading tents and events at Yukon Public Libraries. In Whitehorse, the Canada Games Centre offers reading space and book storage.

By the time a child enters school, she or he has 60 books in their personal library. Studies show the number of books in a home is an indicator of how a child succeeds at school, and that 66 to 75 per cent of parents read more to their children than they did before the program.

That’s especially important in the Yukon, because “a number of children here aren’t ready for school,” says Derome.

“When a family as a whole is interested in books, it impacts how their children are interested in books, and later in school.

“If you think of what Dolly Parton launched, it’s grown way beyond what she expected.”

To sign up your newborn, visit the YLC or

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