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Enjoy pizza, meet storybook characters; proceeds going toward Imagination Library

Cat in the Hat (Lance Pender) and Darth Vader (Jackson Armstrong) pose with their young friends, Roman Armstrong, Vaile Crespo and Mara Armstrong in Armstrong's home to promote the upcoming Imagination Library Pizza and Pals benefit.

Storybook characters will greet children and sign autographs when the first Imagination Library Pizza & Pals event is held Saturday, April 1. The doors open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Biesiot Activities Center.

Proceeds will be used to finance the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library for children in Stark County.Through the program, children ages birth to age 5 are given a free library book every month.

“We’re basically all volunteers from the community -- some parents, some retired teachers,” board secretary Erica Crespo said. “”We’ve relaunched the program and want to get things back again.”

Dolly started her Imagination Library in 1995 in Sevier County, Tenn. Inspired by her father’s inability to read or write, she was determined to help children fall in love with books.  

Imagination Library spread throughout Tennessee, and it kept growing.

Generations of young children and adults affectionately call Dolly ‘The Book Lady,’ a title Dolly embraces and one that gave her father great pride. More than 70 million free, age-appropriate books have been mailed to date, according to an Internet account.

Former first lady Betsy Dalrymple is credited for promoting Imagination Library in North Dakota. The program ended,  but a group of volunteers are resurrecting the dream.

Local funding of the books must come from donations by the community, government and business leaders. Crespo and Marisa Armstrong are co-chairs of the fundraising committee for Stark County.

During Pizza & Pals, children and their parents will be treated  to pizza and ice cream.They will meet favorite characters such as Cat in the Hat, Darth Vader, Elsa, Belle, Mickey and Minney Mouse, Batman  and Alice in Wonderland.

Children may sit in on storytime, or grab their colors at the activity table.

Numerous businesses are serving as event sponsors, and the public is invited to support the project. Tickets are $10 per person; free for ages 2 and younger. Tickets may be purchased at Quality Quick Print, Dickinson Area Public library and Out of Town -- in the Prairie Hills Mall. There will be a drawing for two kids’ bikes.

“I’m a stay-at-home mom interested in the program for my son’s sake, and I’m trying to get the program up and running again,” Crespo said. “It’s a great program to promote literacy and early childhood development. Dolly Parton’s vision was to provide books to children in her community, regardless of socioeconomic status, making sure there are books in the house.”

Marisa Armstrong  has recruited her husband to be one of the characters.

“We like costumes for Halloween -- we have lots of them,” she said. “We are looking forward to a fun event for families to attend. We have a large variety of characters. We’ll have storytime reading, we’ll have a drawing for bikes and face painting.”

Imagination Library promotes early home literacy, said Armstrong who was a former elementary school teacher.

“It’s to give every child the opportunity to have a free book every month delivered in their name and is age appropriate. A child can have 60 books if he or she is enrolled at birthday until they each their fifth birthday,” she said.

For more information  on Facebook, visit Imagination Library Pizza and Pals.