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Chester County Press

Chester County preschoolers now eligible to receive free monthly books

12/13/2022 01:43PM ● By Richard Gaw

The Chester County Imagination Library is a local affiliate of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which has become the preeminent early childhood book-gifting program in the world and distributed nearly 200 million free books to preschool children in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and The Republic of Ireland.

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

It has long been the aspiration of Jan Michener, the founder and director of Arts Holding Hands and Hearts, Inc. (AHHAH) to get more books into the hands of Chester County’s youngest readers, and from its start in 2013, it has achieved just that.

A few years ago, the organization spearheaded a grass roots campaign that built, designed and installed nearly 100 pop-up lending libraries (P.U.L.L.) throughout Coatesville, Kennett Square and Oxford that has collected and distributed over 60,000 books.

Last year, AHHAH formed the Greater Coatesville Imagination Library -- a local affiliate of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library -- that gives children from birth to five years the opportunity to receive a free book in the mail once a month. In less than one year, the program registered more than 650 preschool-aged children living in Coatesville to receive a free book a month.

Michener’s aspiration got a whole lot larger.

In a county-wide effort that includes foundations, school districts and libraries, AHHAH recently announced the establishment of The Chester County Imagination Library, an initiative that will expand the work of The Greater Coatesville Imagination Library to include all preschool children in Chester County as part of a mission to increase literacy levels for preschool age children in the county.

The Chester County Imagination Library will provide books to children through donations from foundations, corporations and individuals. A $30 donation will provide one year of free books for a Chester County child, which will be mailed directly to children’s homes and include instructions and tips for parents to make the most of reading together as a family. Each title is selected by a panel of early childhood literacy experts, who choose books to meet the age-specific developmental needs of young children.

The organization’s goal will be to register more than 4,000 county children for the program by the end of next June.

“As of right now, we have over 2,000 children enrolled in the program, and I told our team that I think we’re going to reach 4,000 by Jan. 1, 2023,” Michener said. “Being literate prepared for kindergarten is a huge step to a child becoming a reader by the time he or she reaches the third grade. If every child in Chester County gets a book every month from birth to age five, by the time they reach kindergarten, they will have the literacy skills to become a reader.

Michener said the program will cultivate mutual aid communities of care and compassion.

“We’re not just supplying a book, we’re setting up and partnering with agencies all over the county that will be supporting the children and their caregivers on how to engage and bond over literacy, so that these children will not just survive, but thrive,” she said.  

AHHAH’s beginning partners in the Chester County Imagination Library include the Justamere Foundation, Penn Medicine, the United Way of Southern Chester County, the Kennett Consolidated School District, the Mighty Writers, Casa Guanajuato, the Oxford Library and the Kennett Library, among other county agencies.

“Literacy is a lifelong journey that leads to success in all phases of life,” said Christopher Manna, director of the Kennett Library. “The Imagination Library provides that initial spark for life’s journey.”

The establishment of The Chester County Imagination Library is the latest accomplishment in AHHAH’s vision to provide every child in Chester County with the tools and opportunities they need to achieve their highest capacity. Through its many programs and initiatives, it addresses the needs of each child and engages the community around the goal of empowering youth to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations.

Since launching in 1995, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has become the preeminent early childhood book-gifting program in the world. The flagship program of The Dollywood Foundation, a non-profit organization that has registered 2.2 million preschool children and gifted nearly 200 million free books in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and The Republic of Ireland. The impact of the program has been widely researched and results suggest positive increases in key early childhood literacy metrics.

To register a child, share the program with an eligible family, or to support the Chester County Imagination Library, visit

For more information about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, visit

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].