Gianni Esposito peered over a table, using his finger to trace the images on the storybook pages.
Sitting in his mother’s lap, he recited what he observed, pointing out the trains and trucks illustrated in “Road Work Ahead,” one of his newest books.
“Look mommy, an ice cream truck,” said Gianni, 2, to his mother, Anna Terenzi.
Want to join?
• To sign up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Sandusky, visit the Sandusky Erie County Community Foundation at 135 E. Washington Row or the Sandusky Library children’s desk at 114 W. Adams St.
• Only Sandusky residents are eligible. A child’s first book will arrive about eight to 10 weeks after joining the program.
Sandusky Imagination Library, a fairly new chapter of a national program, will deliver dozens of children’s books to Gianni’s home before his fifth birthday. He received “Road Work Ahead,” an instant hit, after Terenzi signed him up this summer. While juggling a job and nursing school, Terenzi said the gifts are much appreciated.
“It encourages parents to work with their kids, no matter how busy they are, because they’re so excited when that book comes in the mail,” Terenzi said. “Gianni loves his books. He’s always taking them off the shelf to read with us.”
Each month, Sandusky Imagination Library sends its member children a free, age-appropriate book, with the goal of preparing them for preschool by increasing their reading abilities.
Any child younger than 5 who lives in Sandusky can join. More than 600 local children are currently enrolled in the program, but about 1,800 are eligible. The program started in October and has delivered more than 5,000 books in about one year.
Country singer Dolly Parton created the national program, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, in her Tennessee hometown in 1995. It provided every child there with a personal library and quickly gained national attention, so Parton offered offshoots in any community in the U.S. that could support the endeavor.
Ann Murray, local program coordinator, operates the Sandusky Imagination Library in conjunction with the nonprofit Sandusky Erie County Community Foundation.
The Sandusky Erie County Community Foundation is Sandusky Imagination Library's fiscal agent but five local foundations and a few individuals have funded the program to date. The Sandusky Library, meanwhile, maintains Sandusky Imagination Library's database of participating children. Parton’s national program distributes the books.
Each child’s reading journey begins with the classic “The Little Engine That Could” and ends with the fitting “Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!” Every book contains an educational flap that explains how to read the book, as well as the concept of Sandusky Imagination Library.
“So many families today don’t have books in their home, and without an introduction to reading, kids just aren’t ready for school,” Murray said. “Reading gets their minds thinking and exploring, so they can see a wider world. It’s the core of learning.”
Charita Brown recently enrolled her daughters, Reah Brown, 4, and I’sha Brown, 5 months, in the program because it’s a great educational opportunity at an affordable price, she said. Charita has been working diligently with Reah as she prepares to enter kindergarten.
“She really enjoys reading and I try to get her to do it as much as possible,” Charita said. “Constantly buying new books can get expensive though, so getting those in the mail every month really helps. It’s a great program and the books are excellent.”
By the time I’sha enters kindergarten, she will have a whole library of books available — the program’s ideal outcome, Murray said.
“Children who sign up as infants will have 60 different books to give them a head start,” she said. “We’re hoping to double our numbers by next year so we can give as many children as possible this wonderful opportunity.”