A few of the books available -- for free -- to all Eugene preschoolers through Dolly Parton's Imagination Library.

A few of the books available — for free — to all Eugene preschoolers through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Reading is one of the best habits for kids to cultivate, but many children, here and elsewhere, don’t have easy access to their own books.

Country singer Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library provides one solution to that problem. Under the national program, which has been adopted locally by the Eugene Public Library Foundation, any pre-school child living in Eugene can receive a free book mailed to them every month from birth until age five.

The books are all brand new and offer simple suggestions to parents for reading aloud and talking with their children about the stories.

Former KEZI newscaster Doug Barber, who sits on the foundation board, heard about Parton’s program and convinced the foundation to adopt it here last fall. The first books went out in November, and as of this spring more than 2,300 of the city’s 8,000 eligible kids have enrolled.

“People don’t really believe it’s free,” he said. “But it really is — at least to them.” The program, as a national policy, has no income requirements.

The library foundation has taken on the challenge of raising the $150,000 it will cost each year to keep the books coming in Eugene. “We’ve so far raised about $67,000,” Barber said. “And we have a fundraising breakfast coming up in June.”

Parents can sign up their children at birth through the Eugene Library.  The first book a child receives is Wally Piper’s The Little Engine That Could; the last is Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!

“Most kids, by the time they are two or three, really start watching the mailbox,” Barber said.

Get more information on the Imagination Library or sign up a child here.