One free book, every month, until a child's fifth birthday — that's what Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine is promising Cuyahoga County children with the Ohio Governor's Imagination Library Program, announced Monday morning at the Warrensville Heights library.
Every child under the age of 5 in Cuyahoga County can be enrolled in the program. There are about 75,000 eligible children in Cuyahoga County.
"It brings me a lot of joy to think that these kids are going to really have the gift of books and all of the things that that means for them," DeWine said.
Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, which was already up and running in Cuyahoga County, does the same thing — mails free, new books to children every month from birth to age 5 — but it only served select communities in Cuyahoga County.
DeWine's program is working in partnership with Dolly Parton's Imagination Library to now serve the entire county.
"Dolly Parton never wanted this program to be just for poor children. She didn't want there to be a stigma attached to it," DeWine said. "It's available to all children and I think that makes it kind of fun that every child can get it."
It costs about $25 per child per year to get free books each month, in part because of the Dolly Parton program’s partnership with Penguin Random House. In Cuyahoga County, that $25 per child per year will be funded by the governor's office and the Literacy Cooperative of Greater Cleveland, a nonprofit organization that works to improve literacy issues in Northeast Ohio.
The governor's office is committed to the Imagination Library program for the next two years, but could continue the funding down the road, DeWine said.
In the Literacy Cooperative’s 2018 survey, 78 percent of respondents said they read to their children more often after receiving the free books and 80 percent said their children had been asking to read more often.
DeWine believes all the excitement about reading will help set up children for success before they even start school.
"We know that 80 percent of a child's brain is developed by the time they are 3 years old, so this is the most important time really in their life to learn," DeWine said. "If kids are ready for school when they start, it's just going to make such a big difference in how they achieve, react, behave in school."