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Ohio first lady announces free book program for Franklin County kids

Cole Behrens
December 31, 2019

Columbus Dispatch

Children raced for front-row seats as Ohio’s first lady appeared Tuesday at Nationwide Children’s Hospital to read books to the enthusiastic kids and announce how thousands of other kids can get free books.

Fran DeWine read books to the children to commemorate the launch of the Imagination Library in Franklin County. About 83,000 children in Franklin County are eligible for the free books, which will be mailed to their house each month.

Imagination Library was started by country singer Dolly Parton, and offers age appropriate books to children from birth to age 5, regardless of the parents’ income.

Imagination Library is open to all children because of Parton’s vision that kids should not feel different for using the program.

“Mike and I believe every child should enter kindergarten with a good, strong start,” DeWine said of her husband, the governor. “And this is a fun and easy way to help with that.”

Funding comes from public money and private donations. The Franklin County Imagination Library is sponsored by Nationwide Children’s and American Electric Power, among others. The Ohio General Assembly also committed $5 million in dollar-for-dollar matching in counties trying to implement Imagination Library.

The Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library hopes to encourage early reading skills in children. DeWine said studies show children who participate in the program are more likely to embrace education.

“When you enroll a child in the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library program, you’re helping to make an impact that could potentially last a lifetime,” DeWine said.

The Imagination Library began in Parton’s home state of Tennessee, but has since become a multinational initiative with chapters in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Ohio, however, has implemented the program more than any other community outside of Tennessee, said Barbara Mills, chair of the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library Board.

The Franklin County addition is only part of the first family’s plan to bring Imagination Library to the whole state. Mills said 56 Ohio counties are on board with Imagination Libraries and other counties are considering joining.

If all 88 Ohio counties successfully implement the program, Parton herself will visit Ohio to congratulate those who helped bring it to the state.

Parents can sign up for the free books at

Cole Behrens is a fellow at the E.W. Scripps Statehouse News Bureau.


Twitter: @colebehr_report