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Imagination making reading special and new

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

Chloe Crawford gets a new book in the mail every month.

At 21 months old, she was among the first children signed up for the Dolly Parton Ellis County Imagination Library.

"She likes that it comes in with all the mail, and it's hers," said Taryn Crawford, Chloe's mother. "We've made it special. Something new for her. She gets tired reading the same ones."

Through the program, children ages birth to 5 years receive age-appropriate books.

It gets books to families and encourages them to read to their children, said Dana Stanton, Early Childhood Connections Smart Start grant coordinator.

"Shared reading with children is the first step to literacy skills ... the first step in a child becoming a good reader," she said.

Chloe likes looking at the books and being read to. Her dad, Scott, often reads with her when he gets home from work, Taryn Crawford said.

The books will get passed down to her three-month-old sister Kendall, she said.

"My mom instilled the importance of reading," Taryn Crawford said. "We had tons of books when we were little, and she's given those to us. It's funny because they have our names written in them when we were little. I want Chloe to have something special like that."

Cost, paid by the program, is $33 per child per year. There is no cost to the family, Stanton said.

"We wouldn't have this program in Ellis County if it weren't for Lori Hertel," Stanton said.

Hertel heard about the program in other areas, and started fundraising to start one here.

"I know one of the reasons she's doing it is to honor the memory of her daughter Ana," Stanton said of Hertel. "That's a beautiful reason. I think of all the little kids out reading books, and what a great legacy that would be to her daughter."

"I cherish the program because it's in memory of my daughter," Hertel said. "It was such an honor to have my daughter with me. I loved her so much that I wanted to keep her memory alive. By doing the Imagination Library, children are able to get their books, (and) her memory is alive through that program."

Hertel said she developed a special bond with her children through reading, and when Ana was a child, she had a special book she wanted read to her every day.

"Books showed them they were loved by their parents," Hertel said of her children. "I would substitute their names in the books. When they got older, and were looking at the books, (they would) ask 'Where's my name?' "

Ana had a muscle disease -- multiple ptergium syndrome -- and died when she was 17, but Hertel is sure she would have been involved in fundraising for Imagination Library.

Besides Hertel's fundraising to get the program started, the program has received grants, including one from United Way of Ellis County. Donations also can be sent in care of Stanton or Rae Smith, the program coordinator, at Hays USD 489, 323 W. 12th, Hays, KS 67601.

More than 450 children have signed up for the program in Ellis County so far, according to Smith.

Those signed up from birth through age 5 will receive 60 books in all, Stanton said.

"Some people can't afford to buy books or don't have time to go to the library, so that's why I think this program is neat," Taryn Crawford said.

Parents can sign up their children at haysparents.com or contact Smith or Stanton at (785) 623-2400.