Clayton County Imagination Library launched


The Clayton County Foundation for the Future is partnering with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to launch a new initiative to improve early literacy. The Foundation has begun a $50,000 fundraising campaign to provide monthly books for all children in Clayton County from birth to age five.

Reading at grade level is a key predictor of school success and high school graduation, and this program will help get children off to a bright start. Reading scores in Northeast Iowa dropped dramatically throughout the pandemic. Schools are working hard to accelerate learning, but there has been a definite impact on the youngest readers.

“We are very excited to bring this national program to Clayton County children,” says Emily Sadewasser, Foundation coordinator. “The program will encourage an early love of reading, increase early literacy skills, and contribute to kindergarten readiness.”

Age-appropriate, high-quality books are specially selected and delivered each month to children registered for the program. All books are personalized with the child’s name and mailed directly to the child’s home, at no cost to families. Two Spanish/English bilingual titles are selected per age group each year, and books are also available for blind or visually impaired children. 

The program offers an opportunity to support reading proficiency among students most at risk of not reading at grade level. A 2001 study by Storch and Whitehurst estimated that a typical middle-class child enters first grade with 1,000 to 1,700 hours of one-on-one picture book reading, compared with an average of just 25 hours for a child from a low-income family. 

“About one-third of students in the majority of Clayton County school districts are considered low-income, and that percentage is much higher in several districts,” says Sadewasser. “Imagination Library will help get books in their homes at no expense.”

A love of books and reading can help build a foundation for literacy skills that set children up for success in school and in life. Imagination Library levels the playing field for all children by helping them build a home library of their own and encouraging increased interaction with parents and other caregivers around books and reading. 

An anonymous donor inspired the Foundation to take on this project by offering to match half of the cost of bringing the program to the Ed-Co school district. Hayle Bockenstedt, an Ed-Co graduate who represents the Andrea Bockenstedt Live Your Life Endowment, decided to direct a portion of the fund’s annual payout to launching the initiative. 

“Education was an important aspect of our lives growing up. Andrea, at the young age of 13, said she wanted to be a teacher. One way to carry this legacy beyond Andrea's lifespan was for our family to donate to Clayton County's Imagination Library,” says Bockenstedt. “By supporting young readers, we are building a foundation of excellence in our community – and I could not be prouder.”

Dr. Russ and Juanita Loven of Guttenberg also made a gift from their endowment with the Foundation. “We were at an educational conference many years ago when Dolly Parton launched this program,” says Juanita Loven. “Little children having access to literature early in life will take their normal curiosity to many places. We are happy to help start this valuable program in Clayton County.”

The Foundation has committed to raising $50,000 to pay for the first five years of books for Clayton County children. The books cost just $2.10 per child per month, or just over $25 per child for one year of books. Once sufficient funds are raised, Sadewasser will distribute enrollment forms to libraries, clinics, child care centers and other area partners so parents can register children to participate. 

To learn more or make a gift, contact Sadewasser at 563-588-2700 or Gifts can also be made online at