Woman recognized for literacy effort

When Claire Derome first arrived in the Yukon seven years ago, she toured all of the communities and discovered something disturbing they all had in common.

When Claire Derome first arrived in the Yukon seven years ago, she toured all of the communities and discovered something disturbing they all had in common.

“I saw, when I was looking myself to buy a book, you can’t really,” she said. “If you want to buy a book, unless you are in Dawson, there’s no real place where you can buy books.

“And then I began to say, ‘And the children? Where can parents buy books?’”

Changing the reality that a child’s home library is a rare thing in Yukon communities is one of the main missions behind the Yukon Literacy Coalition and many of its programs – especially the Yukon’s Imagination Library program.

Derome brought this program (formerly called the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library) to the territory. That action, among others, led to her being recognized last week, on International Literacy Day, with the national Council of the Federation Literacy Award.

Derome, who is also the current president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, discovered the imagination library program in 2006.

Country singer Dolly Parton began the program, which sends children one book every month from the time they are born to their fifth birthday, in her home state of Tennessee.

Now the program is available across the US, Canada and the UK.

“That makes a total of 60 books (per child),” said Derome, adding that a child’s good relationship to books, at an early age, is one of the best indicators of a child’s future success in school.

And while the premise of the program is to help kids become excited about reading – no matter what their financial situation – it does cost money to run.

A community must come together to afford the books and mailing charges. From there, The Dollywood Foundation of Canada takes care of the rest – including reducing the cost of the books.

Derome, as a member of the Rendezvous Rotary Club, partnered with the Literacy Coalition to make the program available in the communities first.

Rural and remote communities had the most to gain from the program, she said. “So that’s where we decided to start. It was also a financial consideration. The communities are smaller. We have about 90 to 100 children born every year in the communities.”

But it didn’t take long for Whitehorse parents to catch wind of the program, and they began contacting the coalition, and Derome directly.

Within a year, Dolly books started being sent to Whitehorse children as well.

There are now more than 700 children in Yukon receiving a book a month. And that number grows by about 200 each year.

Derome expects 60 per cent of all Yukon children under five years old will be receiving a book per month by 2012.

“The more children involved, the more books we’re buying to get mailed out and the more books we’re mailing out,” said Moira Sauer from the Yukon Literacy Coalition. “So because it’s been so incredibly successful, the money we started with hasn’t lasted the same amount of time we initially forecasted with it.”

There will be a fundraiser on September 29, at the Visitor Reception Centre in Whitehorse. And while Parton will not be there, the evening will focus on her – complete with the Yukon premiere of the 2011 Canadian movie, The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom, which follows an 11-year-old girl in Manitoba in the 1970s who finds out she was adopted, and decides Dolly Parton is her biological mother.

The film’s writer, Tara Johns, spent two years working on the film before connecting with Parton to ask permission, said Derome. The country singer agreed and even stared in the film. Johns will be attending the event to talk about her own story with the movie, as well as the movie itself.

Tickets are available from Arts Underground, M&M Meats and from the Rotary Club.

The Yukon is currently the only other place, outside of Tennessee, to offer the imagination library program to all of the jurisdiction’s children, said Derome, adding anyone can register a child for the program – a parent, grandparent, aunt, teacher, etc.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at roxannes@yukon-news.com