Vancouver Island resident, 95, takes inspiration from Dolly Parton and launches free book program for toddlers

·2 min read
'All three-year-olds should have books,' says Eva Hilborn, 95, who has launched a foundation in School District 69 providing toddlers with free books every month. (Submitted by Eva Hilborn - image credit)
'All three-year-olds should have books,' says Eva Hilborn, 95, who has launched a foundation in School District 69 providing toddlers with free books every month. (Submitted by Eva Hilborn - image credit)

If Dolly did it, so can I.

That's what 95-year old Qualicum Beach resident Eva Hilborn told herself when deciding to launch her foundation the Wonderful World of Books, which delivers a book a month, for free, to families with children two and three years old living in Bowser, B.C., a rural community about 20 minutes north of her home.

A lifetime reader who strongly believes having access to books at a young age is critical to child development, Hilborn says the idea came to her after reading a newspaper article about country singer Dolly Parton whose own foundation, Imagination Library, has gifted over 150 million books to children under five all around the world since its creation in 1995.

"I said, Oh, I could do that on a small basis," said Hilborn, speaking to Robyn Burns, host of CBC's All Point's West.

So she started in August, delivering 25 books to 25 youngsters in the Bowser Elementary School catchment area. Hilborn said she chose Bowser, part of School District 69 with a population of less than 2,000, because it was a manageable size to trial the program.

Now, she is hoping to expand the program to 100 children born in 2019 in other communities in the district which include Parksville, Nanoose Bay, Qualicum Beach, Errington and Coombs.

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

"What I want these children to learn is the rhythm of language," said Hilborn, adding they must learn to read, but she hopes having an early start will help them love it.

Ariel Siller, CEO of the Canadian Children's Literacy Foundation, told CBC in July there is concern the pandemic has impeded literacy development for children. She said at least one million children in Canada also had below grade level reading even before the pandemic.

Introducing children to reading early and often is beneficial in multiple ways, said Siller.

"Some families say, 'My baby is so little, why is it important to read for them?' It's one of the best ways to develop the child's language skills," Siller explained.


Hilborn says her goal is for every little kid in her local area to have their own library before they start school. Recipients receive a book a month for two years and Hilborn writes their name in each book they receive.

All the books are purchased locally and she hopes the community will continue to carry the torch when she herself no longer can.

"I will leave money in my will," said Hilborn. I'll do as much as possible in ensuring that this program continues."

If you live in District 69 and would like your toddler to get a free book a month from January to December 2022, you can contact the Wonderful World of Books Foundation at wwbeec@gmail.com.

Register by Nov. 15, 2021, so you can start sharing some great adventures with your little one in the new year.

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