GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KREX) — United Way of Mesa County announced the program has sent more than 40 thousand free books to children in the county since expanding the program last year.

Imagination Library, started by Dolly Parton in 1995, provides a free book once a month to children from birth up to the age of 5. The program was established in Tennessee and has since expanded into Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia.

The program was established in 2009 as two separate libraries, servicing Grand Junction and the Lower Valley respectively, before they merged and United Way took over operations.

Zebulon Miracle, executive director of United Way of Mesa County, tells WesternSlopeNow that the books for each age group are chosen based on what’s developmentally appropriate for their age.

“These books are picked out by experts who will say, ‘if your child is this many months old, this is what they’re interested in. This is a big developmental milestone, this is where we think they should be, as far as reading and engaging them goes.'”

Research shows that children enrolled in the program are more prepared for kindergarten compared to children who aren’t.

“The sooner we can get young children excited about books, the sooner we can get books in their hands and get them to develop a lifelong love of learning.”

To register your child for the program, check eligibility, or donate, visit United Way of Mesa County’s website.