Smart Start of Bladen County offering free, monthly books to pre-school children

By: Chrysta Carroll - Bladen Journal

ELIZABETHTOWN — Read any good books lately? If not, at least one organization wants to help.

“We have a literacy problem in Bladen County,” Quessie Peterson, board member of the Bladen County Smart Start, said recently. “We have parents who are having a hard time scraping together money to pay the bills. How are they going to go to the store and get books to read to their children?”

To address the issue, Bladen County Smart Start recently enrolled in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, an effort by the country music titan to encourage childhood literacy. As a Local Champion — what the Imagination Library calls its local affiliates — Smart Start pledges to pay a nominal fee each month for each local child enrolled in the program. In return, participating children will receive a high-quality book each month, free of charge to the family.

“Any child, no matter what their economic condition is, or whether they’re homeschooled or no-schooled, is eligible for the program,” said Peterson excitedly.

The only restriction is age — children must be under the age of 5 to be enrolled.

Described as “high-quality” books, titles range from Owl Moon and Luke Goes to Bat to Where’s My Nose?, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and Your Kind of Mommy and includes favorite characters like llama llama, Peppa the Pig, and Mother Goose. Participating children will receive a title each month that is age-appropriate and addressed to them.

“Anything we can do to increase literacy — if there’s a resource we’re underutilizing — we need to start using,” Peterson remarked. “I think if every child between zero and five had a book, that would make a big difference in literacy in Bladen County.”

Families with eligible children may contact Bladen County Smart Start about enrollment by calling 910-862-3335, by emailing, or by visiting them on the web at or in person at 222-B W. Broad St. in Elizabethtown.

Inspired by Parton’s illiterate father, The Dolly Parton Imagination Library was launched in 1995 to foster a love of reading among the families in East Tennessee. Since its launch, it has expanded from 1,700 books locally to more than one million books mailed out each month to children around the globe. In 2016, it mailed out its 25 millionth book, inspiring children to “Dream More, Learn More, Care More, and Be More.“

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing

Chrysta Carroll

Bladen Journal