Country music superstar Dolly Parton has said ‘Ay up mi duck’ to Nottingham people, and asked them to support a scheme to give free books to children from birth until their fifth birthday.

In a special video message to Nottingham, Dolly had a go at the city’s famous style of welcome – before urging everyone to help more Nottingham children to benefit from her ‘Imagination Library’ scheme.

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The video message launches a week of action to promote Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (Monday 18 – Friday 22 May) and to raise donations to ensure the scheme can be rolled out to more children across Nottingham City.

Dolly’s scheme is already running in some parts of the City. Originally sparked by volunteers in Wollaton, the scheme gained support from The Rotary Club of Nottingham, Castle Cavendish and Nottingham City Council. The scheme is being expanded further thanks to Small Steps Big Changes (SSBC) – a £45m programme of activities and initiatives headed up by Nottingham CityCare partnership to help give Nottingham’s 0-3 year olds a better start in life. A full background to Nottingham’s engagement with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library features in the notes below.

To help launch the fundraising drive, Dolly Parton has given the council an exclusive song that can be downloaded at I Believe in You is the title track of Dolly’s new compilation album of children’s music to be released in Autumn 2015. Dolly will be releasing 11 other songs that people can buy for their collection. Every penny made from the sale of the album goes to supporting the Imagination Library.

The strategic importance of reading will also be discussed at the City Council’s Full Council meeting on Monday 18 May. The discussion will recognise that Nottingham children are likely to start school with reading skills up to 14% behind the national average (see notes below). Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has been proven to tackle this problem effectively and support children to improve early reading skills.

Councillor David Mellen, the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services, will join partners and families benefiting from the scheme at the Council House prior to Full Council.

Cllr Mellen said: “This amazing charity helps to inspire children to love books. We know reading changes lives. It broadens horizons and opens up a whole world of opportunities. Through working together with Dolly’s charity [The Dollywood Foundation of the UK] we can encourage more parents to explore books at home with their children. We know this will help them to start school with a much greater confidence.

“Our ambition is to extend the Imagination Library so that every Nottingham child from 0-5 years old can get a free book delivered to their home each month. Together we can ignite a lifelong passion for reading and give our children the very best start in life.”

Dolly Parton said: “I am delighted that partners in Nottingham are working together to help 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.”

As part of the City Council’s week of action there will also be cake sales, a ‘Double Denim’ day, people in Dolly fancy dress and the council bosses will be using their lunch break to raise money through a flash mob line-dance to a Dolly song at Loxley House.

Research shows that early reading helps children to:

  • develop a love of books and reading
  • have dedicated one-to-one time with parents
  • discover new ideas and words
  • perform better at school in reading and writing

Background to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Nottingham

 In 1995 Dolly Parton launched the Imagination Library in Sevier County, Tennessee. Her vision was to get children to fall in love with reading by giving them a specially selected free book each month from birth until their fifth birthday. By 2000 the scheme was so popular it was rolled out to different communities across the US.

The success of the scheme in the US has shown that the programme improves early childhood literacy. So we know the charity really makes a difference and helps children to do well at school.

The Nottingham story – The vision of the Imagination Library was first sparked in Nottingham in 2009 by Cheryl Mitchell, a Teaching Assistant at Fernwood Infant School, Wollaton. Cheryl campaigned to raise funds and encouraged people to support the charity.

Momentum gathered when the Rotary Club of Nottingham worked with Nottingham City Council to help to co-ordinate fundraising which enabled the Imagination Library to be set up in the Nottingham neighbourhood of Bilborough. Nottingham City Council’s Children’s Centres were enrolled to administer the scheme and Health Visitors promoted the scheme to parents.

The scheme was then expanded to Hyson Green, Radford and Dunkirk & Lenton thanks to funding from Castle Cavendish – a regeneration charity which aims to improve the quality of life for people in Nottingham.

In 2014 Nottingham won a National Lottery bid to support more young children. Headed by Nottingham CityCare partnership, Small Steps Big Changes (SSBC) is a £45m programme of activities and initiatives to give Nottingham’s 0-3 year olds a better start in life. As part of the programme, the Imagination Library will be established in four additional neighbourhoods: Aspley, Arboretum, Bulwell and St Ann’s.

The future – So far, 1,384 children have been registered and 16,915 books have been delivered. But we want to do more. We want EVERY child to be able to receive the books. We need your help to raise the necessary funds to deliver this exciting vision. Together we can give the gift of reading.

If you want to help make a difference, then please donate at