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State Department of Education launches book project for young readers

MORGANTOWN — The state Department of Education is writing the book on country music megastar Dolly Parton.

In a matter of speaking.

Or reading, that is.

The department’s West Virginia Blue Ribbon Book Club launches this month. The goal is to get more than 250,000 books — all for free — in the hands of youngsters entering first, second and third grade this fall.

This is the second summer for the project, whose partners include the Dollywood Foundation, a spin-off of Parton’s “Imagination Library” literacy outreach.

Marshall University’s June Harless Center is also a partner in the effort.

It’s the only reading program of its kind in the nation, State Schools Superintendent Clayton Burch said.

After a 15-month slide wrought by the pandemic, reading is the main school-rule, the superintendent said.

“West Virginia children are growing up with a love for reading and learning,” Burch said. “Now more than ever, there is great benefit when we extend learning and family engagement.”

“Engagement” is the watchword for literacy outreach across Monongalia County and the Mountain State.

WVU men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins is featured on the project’s website reading a children’s book aloud in a taped presentation.

The United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties is a big proponent of Parton’s “Imagination Library,” as is Brooke Brown, a kindergarten teacher and reading specialist and the spouse of WVU head football coach Neal Brown.

Other supporters are Lydotta Taylor, the founder and CEO of The EdVenture Group, a tech and professional development company in Morgantown.

Taylor began her career as a high school math and science teacher who would encourage her students to read for fun.

Besides, the teacher-turned-CEO said, reading makes for critical thinking. And critical thinking begets serious learning, even if the subject matter might be a fun, silly kids’ story.

Parton wasn’t laughing at the Library of Congress three years ago.

It was the occasion of the 100-millionth book from her enterprise that just went out to a young reader.

The country singer dedicated the project to her late father, Robert Lee Parton, who went to work instead of school as a child so he could help support his parents.

He favored education, and intellectual pursuits, even more because of his upbringing, his daughter said.

“Daddy couldn’t read and write,” she said. “And that was crippling to him.”

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