Grady Gudmunson loves books and he loves bears. So he was the perfect recipient of the North Star Imagination Library’s 500,000th book, “Shh! Bear Sleeping.”

The 21/2-year-old Fairbanks boy has been receiving books from this non-profit organization since he was born. His brother Finnley, 51/2, also receives a free book every month.

“He has a big imagination,” said his mother Kaitlyn. That stems from loving books, she added.

The Gudmunson boys are members of the North Star Imagination Library, a volunteer organization that sends books, for free, to children in the Fairbanks North Star Borough every month. Children can participate in this program from the day they are born until they reach the age of five. Parents just have to sign up their children at northstarimaginationlibrary.org.

“Each time a child opens the mailbox to find a book addressed to them, asks a loved one to sit and read, and is transported by the loving connection, engaging illustrations, and powerful stories, magic is happening,” according to North Star Imagination Library.

In the Fairbanks area, every child registered with the Imagination Library at birth will have a home library of 60 books by the time they reach age five and start kindergarten.

“Sometimes I feel like they have 500,000 books already,” Gudmunson laughed. Grady was super excited to get this latest special book, she said.

Grady was selected to receive the program’s 500,000th book and the board held a special ceremony at Pioneer Park, marking the occasion. There were giant gold balloons that spelled out the big number - 500,000 - and cupcakes to devour after the ceremony.

It was a cold drizzly day. The brothers kept warm afterwards by stomping on the balloons.

This program began 13 years ago and now continues thanks to generous donations from businesses, organizations and community members.

The goal now is reach the one million mark.

Donations are always welcome at northstarimaginationlibrary.org/donate/ A donation of $30 buys books for one child for one year. 

A donation of $150 funds a child receiving books from birth until their fifth birthday. There are no administrative costs because the program is run by volunteers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends families read with their children every day to strength bonding, increase language skills, improve vocabulary and boost brain activity. Studies show that children who are read to are better prepared for kindergarten.

The books sent every month are carefully selected by the Imagination Library Blue Ribbon Committee to meet the needs and interests of each stage of development.

“We are proud and grateful to live in a community that values the power of reading to change lives,” the North Star Imagination Library said in a Facebook post celebrating the 500,000th book. “With your help, we can continue to provide high-quality, age-appropriate books to every child under five in our community, thank you for creating a community of readers.”

Imagination library was founded in 1995 by Dolly Parton and currently distributes books to 1.7 million children around the world, every month.

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at kcapps@newsminer.com. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.