CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – West Virginia children will soon have more access to free books, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

The West Virginia Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is partnering with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in an effort to promote early childhood literacy to children. The WV DHHR says the CDC’s Developmental Milestones lists reading and engaging with young children is important for their brain, language and speech development.

According to the WV DHHR, the eligibility for the state’s WIC program runs through the age of five, which aligns with the duration a child is eligible for the Imagination Library. The Imagination Library works to mail free books to children each month to help them get a head start on reading.

The Imagination Library started in 1995 in Sevier County, Tennessee, where Dolly Parton grew up. By 2000, efforts began to expand the program throughout the United States, and then globalizing to Canada, The United Kingdom, Australia and the Republic of Ireland.

Since the Imagination Library’s inception, 2,056,479 children have been registered and 182,571,673 books have been gifted, according to the program’s website.

She began the program in honor of her father, Robert Lee Parton Sr.

“He was the smartest man I have ever known but I know in my heart his inability to read probably kept him from fulfilling all of his dreams,” Parton said about her father in a letter published to the Imagination Library website.

To choose the books for the program, a panel of early childhood literacy experts reviews books each year to include in the monthly mailing. The program then mails the free books to registered children – birth to 5-years-old. There is no income requirement to register.

Book selections vary by age and the panel focuses on specific themes and concepts such as inspiration, imagination, a love of reading and learning, regard for diversity and culture, promoting of self-esteem and confidence, and appreciating art and aesthetics.

To register for the Imagination Library, visit the organization’s website or go to your local West Virginia WIC clinic. Once the child has been registered, the family will receive an age appropriate book in the mail addressed to the child.