For years, the Norfolk Library Foundation, Read Aloud Norfolk and the Norfolk Public Library have been promoting reading for all ages — even newborns by providing a coupon for a free book, as well as other such “goodies” as a sippy cup or bib, gift bag and reading tips.

In addition, the Briggs & Barrett Project provides parents with “When Baby Sleeps,” a children’s book published by Melissa West. All newborns who leave Faith Regional Health Services and many other Nebraska hospitals go home with this book.

While also promoting reading, West said the goal of the book is to educate and raise awareness of the safe way to put a baby to sleep. The book talks about various ways that different animals fall asleep ending with how a human baby goes to sleep safely.

Studies show that reading aloud to a child is the single, most important thing parents can do to enable their child to become a successful reader. Reading and learning begin at birth, and these programs encourage just that for parents and their newborns.

Now the library and Read Aloud Norfolk are expanding on that by launching Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library — which provides free books each month to children under age 5 in Norfolk, mailed directly to the child’s home. The books are selected and vary by age so that the child will receive a high-quality, age-appropriate book delivered every month. The program is being led by Read Aloud Norfolk, a local nonprofit that encourages reading aloud with children, with financial sponsorship coming from the Connie Fund of the Nebraska Community Foundation — an endowment set up by Connie Day, a longtime Norfolk businesswoman and former state senator, before her death in 2001.

Since October 2003, Read Aloud Norfolk has distributed more than 82,000 books into the Norfolk area community. These include books distributed through Read to Your Bunny book donations for newborns at Faith Regional Health Service

Inspired by her father’s inability to read and write, Parton started her Imagination Library in 1995 for the children within her home county. Today, her program spans five countries and gifts more than 1 million free books each month to children around the world. That number continue to grow with states such as Kansas expanding statewide with a goal of making books available in every ZIP code. At this time, Kansas has 82 programs covering portions of 77 of Kansas’ 105 counties.

In this corner of the state, thanks to such local groups as the Connie Fund, Read Aloud Norfolk and Briggs & Barrett Project, the number of readers continues to grow.

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