Imagination Library Provides Books for Children



August 2, 2019


books-spokeWhat are the first books you remember? Did you love picture books? Dr. Seuss? I loved stories such as “The Wind Blew” by Pat Hutchins. Even today, I can’t see a butterfly without thinking of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” my first ‘science’ book.

Dr. Jean Barton says early readers become lifelong readers, very accurate in my case. Toddlers who associate books with pleasure and parental approval, she says, “are hooked for life.”

Dr. Barton’s passion for lifelong reading inspired the retired pediatrician to lead the Verde Valley Imagination Library. Since 2012, the VVIL places home-delivered, age-appropriate books in the hands of parents throughout the region – at no cost to families.

The free books are selected by national child development experts, following each child from infancy to kindergarten while moving from simple pictures to numbers and the alphabet. But reading never becomes a chore for VVIL clients, Dr. Barton says. The emphasis is always on enjoyment.

VVIL provides 20,000 books a year to 1,840 families in Cottonwood, Camp Verde, Sedona, Rimrock, Clarkdale, Cornville and Jerome. Though there are no income restrictions, Barton says the no-cost, home-delivered features are especially valuable to struggling young families.

“Thirty-two percent of children under five in the Verde Valley live in poverty,” she said. “Sixty-eight percent of school kids qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.” Even with two full times jobs, many families face challenges with housing and childcare costs, she added. Home delivery of free books helps time and cash-strapped parents bond with their children and aid their development.

VVIL is associated with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which began delivering books to children in Parton’s home area of east Tennessee in 1995. Parton’s group reviews hundreds of potential titles and ships developmentally appropriate books in English and Spanish to each local branch. VVIL orders and pays for the books monthly, covering shipping and the cost of mailing books to each subscribed home, which comes about $2.10 each.

Sedona Rotarian David Simmer brought the VVIL concept to the area in 2012 and Rotarians from around the Verde Valley still serve on VVIL’s Board. Service expanded Valley-wide in 2016 with the help of a grant from the Arizona Community Foundation of Sedona. Barton estimates about 60 percent of eligible children are participating, a figure she hopes to increase.

Enrollment rose steadily after November 2017, when VVIL partnered with Northern Arizona Healthcare’s Verde Valley Medical Center to enroll new parents and offer an introductory book. Medical Center staff have signed up almost 500 families since then.

VVIL illustrates something that I love so much about Sedona – everyone involved is a volunteer; there are no paid staff or facility costs. The program relies on donations for its roughly $55,000 annual budget.

It’s programs and people like this that make me proud to call Sedona my home.

Dr. Barton, Sedona Rotarians, the Arizona Community Foundation of Sedona and the volunteers who help VVIL deserve more than credit for growing a unique service to young families whose needs are too often overlooked. Their skill and spirit strengthen Sedona and build a sense of self-reliance and unity that adds to our quality of life. Yes, Dr. Barton and VVIL deserve more than credit – they deserve our support for their mission of building strong families and future productive citizens.

—Jennifer Wesselhoff, President/CEO