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Literacy is a life-long gift

Literacy is a life-long gift
First Lady Crissy Haslam met with educators and Reading Railroad volunteers during her visit to the C.E. Weldon Public Library in Martin Wednesday.
Haslam stopped by while promoting her READ20 Family Book Club and Tennessee’s statewide Imagination Library, which is known as the Reading Railroad in Weakley County. She was joined by Theresa Carl, president of the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF), the organization responsible for sustaining and growing Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Tennessee.
“Literacy rates tend to be lower in rural areas, and we need all Tennessee students reading on grade level by the third grade to help ensure the bright futures they deserve,” Haslam said.
“One of the best ways parents can partner with teachers is to increase the amount of time reading to children, and I hope that my book club provides another opportunity to do so.”
Haslam launched her READ20 Family Book Club earlier this summer. The initiative highlights the importance of reading and parental engagement in children’s academic lives by encouraging Tennessee families to read together for at least 20 minutes each day.
During her lunch visit to the C.E. Weldon Public Library in Martin, Haslam encouraged participation in the program by donating copies of the E.B. White classic Charlotte’s Web, the August Book of the Month, to the library.
“Literacy is the most important skill that children need for academic success,” Haslam said. “When parents engage in their child’s education by reading together for at least 20 minutes each day, students will be significantly more successful in school.”
Along with the READ20 initiative, the purpose of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is to help children develop a love for reading and learning from birth. Tennessee’s statewide Imagination Library mails a new, age-appropriate, high-quality book every month to registered children, from birth until age five – at no cost to the family and regardless of income.
The Books from Birth program functions by a 50-50 match with the state and county affiliates splitting the cost. The Imagination Library supports and chooses the books and pays for shipping.
“Literacy is so important for the future of our state, and learning can never start too early,” Haslam said. “The Imagination Library program begins at birth, so Tennessee families can start off on the right foot.”
All 407,000 of the state’s children under age five have access to the Imagination Library. To date, over 15 million books have been delivered since the program began in October 2004.
Among U.S. states with active Imagination Library programs, Tennessee stands alone as the only state with participation in every one of its 95 counties. The GBBF works to increase enrollment in the program, estimating that close to 200,000 eligible children age five and under are not yet registered.
“We’re working diligently to continue spreading the word about this amazing program, which is a gift of up to 60 brand new books for every child in the state of Tennessee, from birth until age five – all at no cost to families,” Carl said.
“Imagination Library programs like those in Weakley and Lake Counties are helping create a generation of kids who will be better prepared to excel and achieve from the first day of school,” Carl continued.
Currently, 44 percent of Tennessee third graders are reading on grade level. Children who have not developed some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out later, according to Haslam.
In a recent study conducted by the Urban Child Institute, research showed that programs like the Imagination Library lead to early childhood language development, school readiness, grade progression, on-time graduation and college attendance.
Haslam has participated in other events throughout the state this summer to encourage participation in her book club, including visits to minor-league baseball games and military bases.
For the month of August, she will be traveling to some of Tennessee’s more rural communities to highlight the importance of reading proficiency to academic success.
The two also stopped at Lake County High School in Tiptonville, the public libraries in Henry and Carroll Counties, and the Benton County Fair Wednesday to promote her READ20 Family Book Club in Northwest Tennessee.  
“I’m here today to talk about the Imagination Library and thanking donors who help get more books into families,” Haslam said regarding her visit to the library. “With every county in the state, it’s a joint effort.”
Haslam spoke about how the high school students who are behind probably started off behind in lower grades.
“You can catch up and teachers are doing a good job at it,” Haslam said.
“I talk a lot about parent engagement. It’s the best way academically – read to them, learn about the kid’s teacher, go to parent-teacher conferences, and help with homework. Most importantly is knowing the teacher and reading together as a family.”
To learn how to support Weakley County’s Reading Railroad program, or for information on how to register a child, visit,, or call toll-free at 1-877-99-BOOKS.
For more information about the READ20 Family Book Club visit,, follow @Read20TN on Twitter, or go to your local public library.

WCP 8.14.12

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