For one magical morning, local children will take part in a breakfast pulled straight from the pages of a storybook.
During a special event next weekend, local children will be able to eat pancakes with Berenstain Bears, nibble on fruit with Peter Rabbit and slurp juice with Curious George.
And with each bite, the children will help ensure others throughout the community have access to the joy of reading.
Imagination Library of Johnson County, the local branch of the literacy program founded by Dolly Parton, is hosting its first-ever Storybook Breakfast on Sept. 24. Kids and their parents can sit down for a meal of pancakes, sausage, fruit, juice and coffee, all while getting to meet storybook characters, collecting autographs from the characters in a special keepsake book, and having their photograph with one of the characters taken by a professional photographer.
Proceeds for the event go to the Imagination Library program, which provides a free book each month to participating children, through age 4.
“It’s a chance to help celebrate them and the fact they are falling in love with books every time they get one in the mail. And to further get them excited about reading; they get to meet their favorite characters and get autographs. To see them in real life we thought would be a wonderful experience for them,” said Susan Crisafulli, organizer of the event for Imagination Library of Johnson County.
Imagination Library is an organization founded by Parton in 1995. The idea was to help children in her home Sevier County, Tennessee, achieve their dreams, stimulating their imaginations and encouraging reading within the family at an early age.
Through her foundation, Parton was able to send every child in the county who signed up a book each month.
By 2000, the program was so successful that Parton announced that she would partner with communities throughout the U.S. to spread it nationwide. There are more than 2,000 affiliate programs worldwide. The program also exists in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Ireland.
The Imagination Library has now mailed 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 just how much of a difference the books have made for their children.”
The concept is simple — children are mailed a free book each month from birth through age 4, for a total of 60 free books by the time 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 signed up, 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 the coming years, to cover all of the county, Crisafulli said.
To make the book distribution happen, the Johnson County chapter raises money and registers children. The group pays approximately $25 a year to provide one book a month to each child.
This weekend’s Storybook Breakfast will help raise that money, Crisafulli said.
“One thing that makes a fundraiser work well is if it’s consistent with your mission. Rather than doing a golf tournament or 5K, doing something for the children who receive our books made the most sense to us,” Crisafulli said.
The idea for the breakfast came from a similar program that another Imagination Library chapter in Canada had done as a fundraiser. Working with the organizers of that event, local Imagination Library leaders tweaked it to fit a Johnson County audience and are set to launch it 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 around here,” Crisafulli said.
The breakfast is $10 per ticket, with each child 4 and under free with a paying adult — one free child per one paying adult. Inside Grace United Methodist Church, they’ll find a literary fantasyland, with some of their favorite characters frolicking around them. In addition to familiar faces such as Corduroy the bear, princesses and other special characters will take part as well, Crisafulli said.
Two different breakfasts will be offered on Sept. 24, one from 9 to 10 a.m. and another from 11 a.m. to noon.
Tickets are on sale in advance, and will be available until the two sessions sell out, Crisafulli said. All involved are looking forward to a joyful event, with the hope to bring it back each year.
And they want to get even more kids signed up for the Imagination Library.
“These are more than books. It’s not just a collection of paper with some drawings and words on them. These are little tools that are changing children’s lives, and they’re making a difference in the lives of the child and the child’s family,” Crisafulli said.
IF YOU GO
What: An event for families featuring a breakfast of pancakes, sausage, fruit, juice and coffee while participants interact with their favorite storybook characters.
Who: Imagination Library of Johnson County, a local chapter of the nonprofit founded by Dolly Parton to distribute free books to kids 4 and under.
When: 9-10 a.m., 11 a.m.-noon Sept. 24
Where: Grace United Methodist Church, 1300 E. Adams Dr., Franklin
Cost: $10 per ticket. Children 4 and under are free with a paying adult, one free child per each paying adult.
How to buy tickets: Go to imaginationlibraryjoco.org