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Fostering a Love of Reading

Professor Rajni Shankar-Brown

Stetson Professor Rajni Shankar-Brown reads one of her original poems Tuesday, Feb. 14, at a breakfast for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Stetson University Professor Rajni Shankar-Brown and area leaders gathered this week to help raise money to expand Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to DeLand, providing free books to young children to encourage them to read.

Shankar-Brown, Ph.D., an associate professor and the Jessie Ball duPont Chair of Social Justice Education, serves on the committee for the Imagination Library Volusia, which provides a free book every month to more than 430 children from birth to age 5 in Daytona Beach and Holly Hill. The program aims to prepare children for school and life by providing books in participating communities.

At a “For the Love of Literacy Breakfast” on Tuesday, Feb. 14, in Daytona Beach, organizers and supporters marked the second year of the program in Daytona Beach and said they’d like to expand it to DeLand and Port Orange.

books in Imagination Library

Books like these are sent to children in the Imagination Library program.

Shankar-Brown read one of her original poems at the breakfast, comparing the importance of books to iron, zinc and vitamins for young children. The program already provides books to kids at Starke Elementary in DeLand and is looking to expand to additional high poverty schools including Citrus Grove Elementary School. She added that Stetson students and alumni are helping with the effort, and Stetson University was a sponsor of Tuesday’s breakfast.

“The Imagination Library Project is a natural connection for Stetson because of our university’s commitment to intellectual growth, global citizenship and especially social responsibility. Central Florida has an alarming number of economically disadvantaged households — families and children living in extreme poverty,” said Shankar-Brown. “Access to books is essential to developing fundamental reading and writing skills. Literacy plays a crucial role in a child’s academic journey and in life. It is essential to a child’s intellectual and social-emotional development.”

Adrienne Boyle and Rajni Shankar-Brown with Stetson University

Guests at the breakfast for the Imagination Library enjoyed having pictures taken with a cardboard cut-out of Dolly Parton, including, left, Adrienne Boyle with Stetson’s Office of Development and Alumni Engagement, and Professor Rajni Shankar-Brown.

Dolly Parton started the Imagination Library in 1995 to foster a love of reading by providing free books each month to children in her home county of East Tennessee. Since then, it has grown to provide more than 80 million books to children in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, funded through donations.

The program also started out small in Volusia County, said Linda Schultz, a teacher for voluntary pre-K with Volusia County Schools who earned her education specialist graduate degree from Stetson in 2015 with a focus on curriculum and instruction, with Shankar-Brown serving as her mentor.

“It was very grass roots from the beginning, but now it’s grown. Our event last year was probably a third of the size of this,” Schultz said. “Our next targeted expansion is DeLand and Port Orange … eventually all of Volusia County.”

For more information on the local effort, visit the Imagination Library Volusia website.