Storybook Breakfast to Benefit the County’s Imagination Library Program

For a magical morning, the neighborhood children will take part in a breakfast straight from the pages of a storybook.

In a special event next weekend, neighborhood kids can eat pancakes with Berenstain Bears, munch on fruit with Peter Rabbit and sip juice with Curious George.

And with every bite, children will help ensure that other members of the community have access to the pleasure of reading.

Imagination Library of Johnson County, the local branch of the literacy program founded by Dolly Parton, is hosting its first-ever Storytime Breakfast on September 24. Children and their parents can sit down to a meal of pancakes, sausages, fruit, juice and coffee, while meeting storybook characters, collecting character autographs in a special keepsake book and having their picture taken with the one of the characters by a professional photographer.

Proceeds from the event are donated to the Imagination Library program, which provides a free book each month to participating children, up to age 4.

“It’s a chance to celebrate them and the fact that they fall in love with the books every time they get one in the mail. And to excite them more to read; they meet their favorite characters and get autographs. Seeing them in real life, we thought it would be a wonderful experience for them,” said Susan Crisafulli, event organizer for Imagination Library of Johnson County.

Imagination Library is an organization founded by Parton in 1995. The idea was to help the children of his home in Sevier County, Tennessee achieve their dreams, by stimulating their imaginations and encouraging reading within the family from an early age.

Through her foundation, Parton was able to send every child in the county who signed a book each month.

In 2000, the program was so successful that Parton announced that she would partner with communities across the United States to air it nationally. There are over 2,000 affiliate programs worldwide. The program also exists in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and Ireland.

The Imagination Library has now sent over 188 million books to children. As of September 2022, 77,180 of those books have gone to children in the Johnson County area.

“It’s really amazing and rewarding,” Crisafulli said. “Part of what makes it so rewarding is hearing from parents how much of a difference the books have made for their children.”

The concept is simple: children receive a free book every month from birth to age 4, for a total of 60 free books when they enter kindergarten. Children “graduate” from the program on their fifth birthday.

The first book the children receive is “The Little Engine That Could”, which includes a welcome letter from Dolly. The last book they receive is “Look Out, Kindergarten, Here I Come!”

At this point, 2,002 children are currently enrolled and 1,407 have already “graduated” from the program.

The program is 100% free for families and is currently open to Johnson County residents in Franklin, Bargersville, Needham, Morgantown, Whiteland, Edinburgh, Trafalgar and Nineveh. They hope to add Greenwood in future years, to cover the entire county, Crisafulli said.

In order for the book distribution to take place, the Johnson County chapter raises funds and registers the children. The group pays about $25 per year to provide one book per month for each child.

This weekend’s Storybook Breakfast will help raise that money, Crisafulli said.

“One thing that makes fundraising work well is if it’s consistent with your mission. Rather than doing a golf tournament or a 5K, doing something for the kids who receive our books made more sense to us,” Crisafulli said.

The idea for the breakfast came from a similar program that another chapter of the Imagination Library in Canada had organized as a fundraiser. Working with the organizers of this event, local Imagination Library leaders have modified it to fit a Johnson County audience and are slated to launch this fall.

“We’re a different place with a different community, so we tried to make it something that would work really well for our families here,” Crisafulli said.

Breakfast is $10 per ticket, with each child 4 and under free with a paying adult – one child free per paying adult. Inside Grace United Methodist Church, they’ll find a literary fantasy land, with some of their favorite characters frolicking around them. Along with familiar faces such as Corduroy the bear, princesses and other special characters will also be featured, Crisafulli said.

Two different lunches will be offered on September 24, one from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and another from 11 a.m. to noon.

Tickets are on sale in advance and will be available until the end of both sessions, Crisafulli said. All participants look forward to a joyous event, with the hope of bringing it back every year.

And they want to enroll even more children in the Imagination Library.

“These are more than books. It’s not just a collection of paper with drawings and words on it. They are small, life-changing tools for children, and they make a difference in the life of the child and their family,” Crisafulli said.

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