Our Story

 Photo by  Picsea  on  Unsplash

Photo by Picsea on Unsplash


It all started on a school bus.

When I returned to Berkeley after 25 years in San Jose where I taught and subbed in elementary and middle i schools for 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 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.

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. 

The Berkeley Baby Book Project (The BBBP)'s creation was fueled by that outrage combined with the joy and enthusiasm I feel when giving a good book to a child. That joy and enthusiasm continues to be informed and enriched by ongoing early literacy research and conversations with program partners, parents, and children.

I became determined to ensure that all of Berkeley's children have the opportunity to amass a significant personal library of excellent books before they enter Kindergarten.

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.

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. Any nonprofit can start an IL Program and define their region. The BBBP defined Berkeley city borders as our region. 

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

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 that they share and read books with their child more often as Imagination Library books fill their home. The excitement of receiving a gift in the mail is part of Imagination Library's power: The excitement of receiving their own book makes children want to read and to have the book read with them. You can't buy that on any shelf. 

— Seena Hawley

Executive Director