Books are gateways to the imagination. And as early literacy specialist Sue Brooks says, “Once you’re hooked by a book, you’re hooked for life.”

Getting children interested in reading at an early age is the goal of a program the Halifax County-South Boston Public Library System aims to bring to the county.

The library is raising money to bring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to local children. Children enrolled in the program will receive free books from birth to the age of 5.

“It’s a wonderful program. I think it will be a big plus for the county,” said Jay Stephens, director for the Halifax County-South Boston Public Library System. “It helps get books in kids’ hands before they get to school, so hopefully it will give them a head start.”

Chris Baker, South Boston library branch manager, is spearheading the effort to bring the Imagination Library to the county.

The library needs to raise $13,500 to start the program here.

Baker said 884 children in the county are eligible to participate in the program, and the goal is to enroll as many children as possible in order to keep the program in place.

“By the time a child is 5 (years old), they’ll have 60 books in their home,” said Baker, of the program. “They’re good quality books.”

The books are chosen by experts in the education field and are age appropriate, according to the program’s website https://imaginationlibrary.com/.

The program aligns with one of the county’s public library system’s missions of promoting early childhood literacy, said Stephens.

Baker said, “If you instill that desire and interest and love of reading early on, it will pay in the long run. It’s beneficial on so many different levels.”

Baker noted that reading to a child 20 minutes a day means that child will hear 180,000 words over the course of a year, thus improving the child’s vocabulary.

He added that studies show children whose parents read to them perform better on standardized tests in school than their peers, have better social skills, and are even less likely to experience anxiety.

Brooks, who leads the PALS (Play and Learn Storyhour) program at the county’s public libraries, recommends that parents start reading to their children at birth in order to “develop a very warm, wonderful relationship” with them.

As part of the PALS program, Brooks, known by the children as “Miss Sue,” leads preschool age children in story time, and teaches the children social skills through participation in story time and activities and music to help prepare them for school.

The Imagination Library will add yet another component to the county library system’s already-existent programs such as PALS to promote literacy.

An interest meeting for the Imagination Library will be held on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the South Boston Public Library at 509 Broad St.

Donations to the Imagination Library can be made at either branch of the library by cash or check. Checks should be made out to the Imagination Library of Halifax County.