Our Story

Photo by  Picsea  on  Unsplash

Photo by Picsea on Unsplash


When I returned to Berkeley after 25 years in San Jose where I taught in public elementary school over 12 years, I took a job driving Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) school buses. My first routes were in South Berkeley.

I started giving away books on the bus. This opened the door for conversations with children, parents and teachers about books and reading.

I met many excellent readers. I also met children who struggled with reading. Many of them did not have a history of books in the home or personal book ownership. 

This outraged me.

The creation of The Berkeley Baby Book Project was fueled by my outrage combined with the joy and enthusiasm I feel when giving a good book to a child. Happily, not long after I began looking in to how to create a home delivery system, I learned of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library (IL). The IL system is well-established and delivers excellent books at a far lower cost than The BBBP ever could have on its own. Becoming an Affiliate was an easy decision.

The joy of book-givign is amplified when registering a child for Imagination Library: I know they will get excellent books every month until they turn five. I hope too that the IL Collection, owned by a large majority of children, can be a potential for connection for children and families from even vastly different circumstances whether they live across the street or across town from each other.

In Berkeley — with its rich culture of creativity, ideas, and ideals — it is unconscionable to me that any child's earliest years do not include ownership of good books. I began researching to start a mail delivery book program for this city. Now, with Imagination Library, my vision has expanded: I want to saturate Berkeley's under-5 population with excellent home libraries, then work to bring Dolly Parton's Imagination Library to other East Bay cities. 

I was thrilled when I read the IL eligibility questions:

  1. How old is the child?

  2. What is their home address?  

That's it. And the child is registered for the program — not the parent.

Circumstances beyond a child's age and Berkeley residential address have no bearing on eligibility to receive books through our IL Program.

Putting a good book directly into a child's hands still gives me a sweet thrill. Now I get a similar thrill doing data entry as I input names, birthdates, and addresses into Imagination Library's Book Ordering System. Who knew data entry could be so uplifting?

It’s not like giving occasionally on the school bus. It’s better.

It's ensuring a child gets a good book every month, month after month. I love hearing from parents about their child's excitement when a book, personally addressed to them, arrives in the mail.

Another common anecdote is a parent reporting their child’s excitement upon receiving their own book in the mail. That excitement leads to motivation to read that book, and to have the book read to them. Excitement upon receiving their mail, their book is part of Imagination Library's power to build literacy.

— Seena Hawley

Executive Director