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Bright Ideas Grant Helps Program Deliver Books to Ottumwa’s Youngest Residents

Iowa Kids Count data from 2018 found that only 63.3% of Wapello County 4th grader students were proficient in reading. Studies also show a direct correlation between the success of students and early literacy programs. To help increase early reading opportunities for children in Ottumwa, the Ottumwa Public Library, the OPL Foundation, and the United Way of Wapello County are bringing the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to Wapello County.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library was started in 1995 by the iconic singer. It is “dedicated to inspiring a love of reading by gifting books to children from birth to age five, through funding shared by Dolly Parton and local community partners,” according to the program’s website.

“The Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has been such a successful program in every community it has touched.  We are so enthusiastic about finally bringing it to Wapello County.  The program teaches kids early to have an interest in books, build a strong vocabulary, bond with caregivers reading to them, and, most importantly, a critical head start for their literacy skills as they go into kindergarten.  The entire community benefits by getting books in front of our kids,” said Sonja Ferrell, Ottumwa Public Library Director.

To date, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library has provided 163,323,148 books to 1,881,155 children around the world. Ottumwa joins 25 other Iowa counties in offering this program. “This program has been a success in so many communities because of the simplicity of how it is implemented. Parents/grandparents/legal guardians fill out a card or go online and sign up a child under five years of age, and then they receive a free age-appropriate book in the mail every month. Along with each book, adults receive an informational page to foster discussion and encourage early literacy,” said Ferrell.

Funding for the program comes from local support. In addition to funding provided by the Ottumwa Public Library, OPL Foundation, and the United Way of Wapello County, the program received a $7,500 Bright Ideas Community Enrichment Fund grant from the Legacy Foundation to kickstart the local launch.


Adults interested in receiving books for their children ages 0 to 5 can register online at