Over 2,500 children in Nottingham are now better prepared for primary school, thanks to the book gifting charity Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

So far, partners including Nottingham City Council have helped to deliver nearly 50,000 books to city children under five. This comes as a new study finds children who are consistently enrolled in the Imagination Library are 28.9% more likely to be ready for school at age five than those children who aren’t part of the scheme.

To celebrate this milestone, partners are teaming up to hold a family fun day and line dance, plus Nottingham will be the first UK city to host the international conference for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Leading academics, researchers, practitioners and politicians will gather at what the Americans call ‘Dolly’s Homecoming event’ on Thursday (9). Speakers at the Nottingham Conference Centre will look at how UK children benefit from the book-gifting charity.

Held last year in Tennessee, USA, the 2016 conference in Nottingham will have a special focus on examining the latest research and evidence base for the Imagination Library programme. Dr Frank Ridzi, from Le Moyne University, New York, will share evidence showing that the Imagination Library is proven to help children be more prepared for school.

Local data shows that Nottingham children are likely to start school with reading skills up to 14% behind the national average, so the Imagination Library has significant potential to improve literacy levels. Already in the city 2,575 children are benefiting from this amazing charity.

The conference will be complemented by a number of fun events designed to raise the profile of the Imagination Library in Nottingham and encourage donations for the scheme to be expanded to more city children.

The charity is also teaming up with Bookstart and Nottingham City Libraries to take over Nottingham Castle for a free Family Fun Day of Literacy and Storytelling on Thursday 9 June from 10.30am to 2.30pm – including a mass Dolly line dance.

The event is to highlight the importance of families reading with children and to encourage parents to pick up a book this summer and read together as a family.

On the day, families can watch Geoffrey Jumper’s under-the-sea-themed puppet show and make their own shadow puppet. There will also be crafts, a reading corner, face painting and balloon animals.

Little ones can learn to line dance with the Imagination Library and at 12.30pm, book characters, children and volunteers will come together on the Castle green to perform a mass line dance to one of Dolly’s famous songs. This dance will be broadcast live to the conference, where delegates will be encouraged to take part too.

Children will also get to meet Peppa and George Pig, Robin Hood and Bookstart Bear. The Sheriff of Nottingham, Councillor Jackie Morris, will be there on the day to take part in the fun.

During last year’s successful fundraising drive, Dolly Parton herself said ‘Ay up mi duck’ to Nottingham people, and asked them to support a scheme. In a special video message to Nottingham, Dolly had a go at the city’s famous style of welcome –www.youtube.com/watch?v=daiZpmzgb8k&feature=youtu.be

Dolly Parton said: “I don’t think there is a place in the entire world that has worked as hard or had as much fun with launching the Imagination Library. You are all very special people – kind and generous and totally committed to your kids.

“The people of Nottingham are really working together to make sure even more kids have the opportunity to develop a love of books from the earliest possible age. This program is one of the most important ways I know to improve the educational opportunities for children in our communities. I want kids to love books, to have an emotional connection – even a reverence for books. I am most proud of the fact that every child in the Imagination Library does not have to grow up without books in their home.”

The charity sends a free book to a child’s home each month from birth until the age of five. It helps to improve a child’s literacy, encourages families to read together and can help a child fall in love with reading from a young age. 49,964 books have been given to Nottingham children since 2009.

The charity relies completely on donations from businesses and members of the public.

Councillor David Mellen, Portfolio Holder for Early Intervention and Early Years, said: “It is a real honour to have delegates from all over the world here in Nottingham for the International Imagination Library conference. We want to show them the amazing work we do for our children and to show them how we encourage and highlight the importance of families reading together.

“It has been proven that children are better prepared for school and the benefits are far-reaching. Making time to read with your children is so important because shared reading leads to a love of books. And we know that reading for pleasure has a dramatic impact on life outcomes – and this is as much about confidence and well-being as it is about educational achievements.”

Kirsteen Watson, Regional Director of Dollywood Foundation UK, said: “We have been amazed at how the people of Nottingham have adopted this scheme and the support they have shown the charity. The success of the Imagination Library is based on partnerships. Joining Dolly’s vision, key partners have come together with a selfless spirit and common passion to make the Imagination Library possible for thousands of children.

“The goal is to help children love books and to love reading for a lifetime.  Children who receive a monthly book in the post get excited about it, they want to share their books at home with their parents, carers and siblings.  They provide a focus for some special time together to enjoy the stories, and help to build speech, communication and language skills.  This helps to prepare children for school.  Our specially-selected books are part of a broad effort to transform the city of Nottingham and we are excited to be part of this vision.”

As part of the fundraising drive, Nottingham City Council is holding cake sales, a ‘Double Denim’ day and staff will be dressing up as book characters or in Dolly fancy dress at Loxley House to help raise funds. Staff are also being encouraged to donate to the charity and sponsor a Nottingham child by setting up a monthly donation. It costs a total of £125 for a Nottingham child to receive the books from birth until age five.

To donate to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library or to find out more information about the charity head to  www.dollybooksnottingham.org