Posted on August 2, 2023 by jilldennison
Today, I have two good people for you … one is a celebrity, and the other is just an ordinary guy, but both are humanitarians who are making a big difference in children’s lives and in their futures.
I have done snippets about today’s first good person twice in the past (links at end of this post), but today I want to bring Dolly Parton back to the front of the stage for a couple of reasons. Dolly has done so much for others from donating $1 million to researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center toward finding a vaccine to fight against COVID-19 to providing free college education for employees of her Tennessee amusement park, Dollywood. But she stands out most for her Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library , and that is what I want to shine the spotlight on her for today! Let me tell you just a bit about the Imagination Library and the milestone they passed last month …
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a book gifting program that mails free, high-quality books to children monthly from birth to age five, no matter their family’s income.
After launching in 1995, the program grew quickly. First books were only distributed to children living in Sevier County, Tennessee where Dolly grew up. It became such a success that in 2000 a national replication effort was underway. By 2003, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library had mailed one million books. It would prove to be the first of many millions of books sent to children around the world.
Dolly’s home state of Tennessee pledged to pursue statewide coverage in 2004 and global expansion was on the horizon. After the United States, the program launched in Canada in 2006 followed by the United Kingdom in 2007, Australia in 2013 and the Republic of Ireland in 2019.
“When I was growing up in the hills of East Tennessee, I knew my dreams would come true. I know there are children in your community with their own dreams. They dream of becoming a doctor or an inventor or a minister. Who knows, maybe there is a little girl whose dream is to be a writer and singer.
The seeds of these dreams are often found in books and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world.” – Dolly Parton
And just last month, the Imagination Library passed a milestone – they have gifted over 200 million books worldwide! 2.5 million children are registered in the program and receive a free book each month. This would be big news any time, but today, with 1,477 books banned from both school libraries and even public libraries, and another 1,000 currently being challenged, books have become an even more precious commodity than they were before! School boards are removing libraries from some schools, and even the most innocuous book may be taboo if just one parent doesn’t like the book! Dolly is getting the books in the hands of the kids … the younger you start, the better their opportunities will be! Thank you, Dolly, for all that you do (and your wonderful music, too!)
And my 2nd good people is not nearly as well known, but is also a humanitarian who knows the value of books, Alvin Irby, a teacher and also the founder and executive director of Barbershop Books. Barbershop Books is not as expansive as the Imagination Library, but within their reach, they are doing a wonderful thing – providing books for children to read. Barbershop Books provides books to barbershops in predominantly Black neighborhoods across the country.
How it all started …
In 2008, first grade teacher Alvin Irby stopped by a Bronx barbershop after school for a haircut. Before long, one of his students came in.
“He is getting antsy; he’s kind of looking bored. I’m looking at this student thinking, ‘He should be practicing his reading.’ But he didn’t have a book.”
That moment stayed with Irby, and five years later he started Barbershop Books. Since 2013, the nonprofit has brought more than 50,000 free children’s books to more than 200 barbershops in predominantly Black neighborhoods across the country.
After the pandemic, math and reading scores in the US dropped to levels not seen for decades, yet literacy rates have long been lower for Black students. Only 17% of Black fourth graders are proficient in reading – and that number is likely even lower for the boys, who consistently score lower than girls in reading. The long-term implications of this can be serious.
Irby is working to change that, but not by helping children practice phonics or decode words. While he acknowledges those skills are essential, his approach is different: He wants to encourage boys to read for fun, on their own.
Irby’s program may seem straightforward, but there’s a lot of thought behind it. He puts a colorful, kid-sized bookshelf in each shop, making it inviting to children. The books displayed are all carefully chosen based on recommendations from Black boys ages 4 to 8, his target audience. Many of these stories feature people of color, but for Irby, the most important quality of a book is that it should be fun to read.
“When we ask Black boys about what they want to read, you hear ‘Captain Underpants’ or ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid.’ Kids are more than their skin color.”
The setting for his work is both practical and meaningful. Not only do boys visit barbershops once or twice a month, but they are important hubs of the Black community.
“We are putting books in a male-centered space. Less than 2% of teachers are Black males and many Black boys are raised by single moms. Black boys don’t see Black men reading.”
So, Irby involves the barbers in his mission – training them to engage boys about reading.
“We want them to encourage kids to use the reading spaces. Then they can talk to them about how they like reading, how funny a book was, or tell them about another book another kid was reading.”
Irby has been nominated for a CNN Hero award this year and I hope he gets it!
The single most important part of a person’s education is to learn to think, and that begins with curiosity, and what better way to pique a child’s curiosity than by reading books? With today’s trend toward banning books, isn’t it great to see these two people working so hard to make books available to children? I give them both two thumbs up!
Links to past good people posts about Dolly:
- February 16, 2022 — Good People Doing Good Things — Good Hearts
- November 23, 2022 — Good People Doing Good Things — A Mix
THANKS TO: https://jilldennison.com/2023/08/02/good-people-doing-good-things-giving-books/