Guest Column: Imagination Library serving 400 area children

Published 9:21 pm Friday, August 11, 2017

Live United by Ann Austin

Do you remember your favorite book as a child? The one you had your mom or dad read over and over to you? How did the book make you feel?

I remember loving many books, but “The Velveteen Rabbit” was one of my favorites. I actually believed a stuffed rabbit could become real if you loved it enough.

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Of course I later learned this wasn’t possible. But the book taught me how hard it is to lose something you love — and how to work through those emotions. “The Velveteen Rabbit” ultimately helped me cope with the loss of my grandma when I was very young.

Ann Austin

Books take us to places we may not reach in our daily lives —t hey are often the condensed form of someone’s philosophy or experience in life. Books have been some of my greatest friends.

Yet, not everyone grows up with a love of books, or of reading.

A love of reading, and learning new things, is something we develop over time.

Children will respond to their parent’s interactions with the world — so if a parent shows disgust for broccoli, the child is less likely to try it. The same situation happens with books and reading — it is vital for parents to read to their children and continue to read on their own.

Educators and child development specialists suggest reading at least 20 minutes every night to our children. Studies have shown that reading 20 minutes a day exposes children to 1.8 million words a year. But even five minutes can make a difference.

Reading to our children is more than outputting words on a page. It’s an experience for a child. They get to spend quality time with someone they love. And children, who are naturally curious, become curious about books and the ideas presented in books.

Reading engages children in life — it helps them develop opinions of their own and they can even learn social skills.

My daughter is enrolled in the local Imagination Library program. Through this program, available for Freeborn County children birth to 5 years, children receive a quality, developmentally appropriate book each month.

One of my favorite books, and perfectly timed, is called the “Mine-O-Saur.” It’s about a dinosaur who continually takes things from his other schoolmates. The other “children” just walk away (which is a really good idea in such a situation) and eventually the Mine-O-Saur is left alone, due to his bad behavior.

This book is one we read over and over again and helped my daughter work through her issues of possessiveness. It’s amusing how children are drawn to the books that most represent their behavior. We were able to have conversations about the Mine-O-Saur’s actions and how his behavior impacted his relationships with others. It was a really valuable learning experience.

The Imagination Library program has been around since 2013 and is now currently serving 400 children in our area. But there is a waiting list. The program is a partnership of our United Way and Healthy Families. We want to ensure it is sustainable, so we offer scholarships for families who can’t afford it.

We have about 50 children waiting to enroll. The cost is minimal, only $30 a year. Though the books are free through the Dolly Parton Foundation, our community pays for shipping and handling. Our United Way covers much of the cost through foundation disbursements and community donations but we’ve reached the maximum of what we can do to ensure sustainability.

This is where the community comes in. We are looking for sponsors for local children, so they can participate in this valuable program. Just $30 a year provides 12 quality books for a local child. If they are enrolled as a newborn and remain until the close of the program at age 5, children will have a personal library of 60 books.

Books are delivered directly to children’s homes so transportation isn’t a barrier. Children are more likely to develop a love of reading if they have books of their own — and their involvement in this program actually encourages the use of local libraries. It’s a win-win all around!

If you would like to help support this program directly, or get involved with some of the fundraising ideas we have to take some of our children off the waiting list, please feel free to contact me at 507-373-8670. Our web site has more information at:

Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.