Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library: Inspiring a love of reading in children who are looked-after and adopted

There are currently 2,378 children across Scotland enrolled for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL).  Each month, they receive a specially selected age-appropriate book through the post, until their fifth birthday. This equates to 60 books, as well as a Welcome Book and a Graduation Book which both include a special message from Dolly. 

For many children, it’s the first time they have received anything through the post, and for some, it’s the first time they have had books of their own. 

In 2011, The Dollywood Foundation UK and Scottish Book Trust approached the Scottish Government about a project for Looked After Children. The Scottish Government recognised the additional challenges that these children faced at every stage of their learning, and in response they provided funding for every Looked After Child in Scotland, aged 0-5, to receive the books. Children who are adopted can also now receive the books until their 5th birthday. 

We know these books make a difference to the families in Scotland who receive them. Recently we received this message addressed to Dolly from a parent of an adopted child in Dundee:

“Dear Dolly Parton, I would like to thank you for the joy you bring us every month and indeed every day, with the books you so kindly send us.  I adopted my little girl in 2017, and together we have spent many hours cuddled up, reading the books you have given us.”

Dolly Parton reading with children
Given that book gifting is a central element of both programmes, the Scottish Government recognised the added value of DPIL and Bookbug working together to help families understand the importance of reading regularly to children in the early years.

We've worked collaboratively to develop training that helps foster carers and social workers ensure families get the best out of the DPIL books at home; we’ve also raised the profile of DPIL with local Bookbug contacts.

Both The Dollywood Foundation UK and Scottish Book Trust know that book gifting, and book ownership has an impact on reading outcomes (read more from the National Literacy Trust annual survey 2017). But even at a local level, we received this feedback from a Social Worker at City of Edinburgh Council:

“A four-year-old boy I work with receives books from the Imagination Library. He is always so excited when the book is delivered by the postman and is quick to get it opened and read it.”

Over the course of this project, 187,073 books have been gifted to children in Scotland. That’s a lot of young children with their own wee libraries of books, at home, that they can call their own.  For these young children, it’s sometimes the only thing they do own when they get moved around. These books become their trusted friends and companions on their life journey.  Always there, always loyal, always something they can rely on. 


Find out more about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library including local contacts for Scotland here.

Images provided with kind permission from The Dollywood Foundation UK.

Kirsteen Watson

Kirsteen Watson is a Regional Director for The Dollywood Foundation UK.