Every Island child from birth to age 5 is eligible for a free book each month thanks to Imagination Library, a nationwide program new to Vashon and sponsored by Vashon College.
The program, originally created in 1996 by entertainer Dolly Parton to foster the love of reading in children in her home state of Tennessee, is in more than 800 communities across the United States and began last week on Vashon. Through the program, children receive an age-appropriate book in the mail each month until they turn 5, when they receive their final book, “Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come.” The only obligation that adults have as part of the program is to read each book to the child when the book arrives, according to program sponsors.
Islander James Eliason was the first Islander to sign up for the program. He and his wife Elizabeth Brezynski have two preschool children, Noah, 3, and Nicholas, 5.
Books figure big into their lives already, said Eliason, who had already known about the program and said he is pleased it is now available on the Island, especially for parents who may not have the means to purchase books.
“Reading is pretty much the top thing we do besides outside play,” he said. “It’s so important for their imaginations. Their whole learning, I think, starts from reading.”
A lifelong reader, Bob Booth brought the idea of Imagination Library with him to Vashon when he moved to the Island a year ago. In his former home in Georgia, he started the program in his county with the support of the school district there.
Booth said he was struck by what the kindergarten teachers told him a few years into the program.
“There was a big difference in those kids who had been exposed to the program and those who had not,” he said.
For Booth, the value of reading is clear in light of what we know about early development, especially the first three years, when the brain grows to 90 percent of its adult size, and the fact that research shows that by kindergarten, a typical child has been exposed to 5,000 hours of television.
Reading is important not only for each individual child, Booth said, noting that whatever a child decides to do later in life, reading will be important. Reading is important on a societal level as well. For example, he said, when many states project how many prison beds they will need in the future, they look to third grade reading scores and see how many children are reading below grade level. They extrapolate from there, Booth said. The more kids reading below the grade level, the more prison beds the state will need in the future.
Tom Bangasser, one of the trustees of Vashon College and its current treasurer, said the members of the board of the school were unanimous in wanting to support the program.
“It fits with the mission of the college, which is lifelong learning,” he said.
It also fits in well the its “Vashon Reads” program, which encourages reading on a community level.
According to the latest census information, Bangasser said, about 500 kids on the Island are eligible for the program, and Vashon College will cover the cost of the books — about $30 per child per year — for each child who enrolls, Bangasser said.
“Our objective is to get the 500 kids,” he said. We’ll cover 600 if the number is really 600. If it’s 1,000, we’ll cover 1,000.
The program is open to all kids between birth and 5. Registration forms are located at The Little House, Vashon Bookshop, Books by the Way, the Vashon Pharmacy and the office and Play Space of Vashon Youth & Family Services. They are also available online at www.imaginationlibrary.com
All of the Imagination Library books are published by Penguin Group and are selected by child development specialists.
For more information, call Vashon College at 463-8022.
Caption: James Eliason reads to his son Noah at the Vashon Bookshop from “The Little Engine That Could,” a classic children’s book and an Imagination Library selection.
Photo credit: Christine Beck