Coalition expands access to books for young Indigenous children in SW Ontario

A program delivering books to Indigenous children is growing in popularity, thanks to a collaboration of organizations advocating for the importance of early literacy.

The program is available for children living on and off reserve

Titles like "The Secret Fawn" and "On the Trapline" are selected from Dolly Parton's Imagination Library and sent to households with children up to five years old on a monthly basis. (Submitted by Jacquelyn Keep)

The Aboriginal Babies and Beyond Coalition, along with London's Child and Youth Network, is providing books selected from Dolly Parton's Imagination Library to children living on and off reserves in London and Middlesex County. 

Books geared to children up to five-years-old can be delivered for free to those identifying as First Nations, Metis or Inuit. 

"Parents are so excited," said Jacquelyn Keep, resource consultant for the Enji-Maajtaawaad Early Years Program located on Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. 

"Their children are very excited to be able to receive their own book or directly in the mail." 

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library expanded from the United States to Canada in 2006. Keep said that the Ontario government helped to bring the program to First Nations, Inuit and Metis children living on reserves, but funding was cut in 2020. 

In response, Keep said Enji-Maajtaawaad Early Years Program looked for opportunities to partner and provide books for children both on and off reserves. The organization partnered with members of the Aboriginal Babies and Beyond coalition to do so. 

Keep said there is growing interest among parents now that the Imagination Library is more widely accessible.

She said 86 households from Chippewas of the Thames First Nation and Munsee-Delaware Nation have subscribed, along with 12 households from Oneida Nation of the Thames. Off-reserve numbers in London and Middlesex County are at 12 and going up. 

"Every day we're receiving emails, so that's wonderful," Keep said. 

The Aboriginal Babies and Beyond coalition also provides free book bundles for infant, toddler, and preschool ages on and off reserves. 

With the help of the Child and Youth Network, Keep said the Imagination Library will be continuously available to parents. 

Free books from the program will be available to children until they are five years old.