STORY TIME: Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery reads to kids during the birthday celebrations.

Kids still get more than a kick out of reading, as Gerri Wood happily found out during the second birthday party for Imagination Library Illawarra (ILI).

The ILI committee member was pleasantly surprised to hear a young girl tell her mum she wanted to go to ballet school immediately after reading a book about a ballerina.

‘’I thought that was terrific,’’ Ms Wood said. ‘’It showed to me that kids today are still very enthusiastic about books and that Imagination Library is helping children with their pre-literacy skills.’’

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery joined committee members, parents and children at Barnardos Supported Playgroup Warrawong on May 10 to celebrate the second birthday of Imagination Library Illawarra.

ILI chairperson Sue Clark said the project started in response to ‘’worrying’’ statistics which showed that on average 22 per cent of Australian children start school without the early literacy skills needed for success.

But two years down the track she said Imagination Library Illawarra has changed the lives of many local pre-schoolers who receive a quality, age appropriate book each month, improving their literacy skills and developing in them a love of books and reading.

The Illawarra Imagination Library is now sending out over 250 good quality story books per month to pre-schoolers aged 0 to 5.

 The Warrawong /Cringila group, funded by Rotary Clubs and United Way has increased to 148 and the IMB funded group covering Berkeley, Port Kembla, Lake Heights and the Aboriginal preschool, Noogaleek , has increased to 102 children.

A Rotary District grant has allowed the program to extend to Bellambi recently with 33 children already enrolled.

Registered children receive a book each month by mail until their fifth birthday when they graduate from the program.

The project has provided more than 5000 books to participating children and 146 children have graduated since February, 2014.

‘’The Imagination Library has had fantastic support from parents, teachers and other community groups,’’ Ms Clark said.

‘’Members of Paint the Gong Re(a)d have been wonderfully supportive in registering children in the program and in follow-up activities.

‘’Parents are learning how to develop their children's literacy skills. The children’s vocabulary is expanding and their language skills are developing. Parents and children are enjoying reading the books together.

‘’There is shared excitement when the books arrive. The books are regarded as precious and children who have been in the program show a very well developed love and enthusiasm for books and reading.’’

(This article was first published in The Advertiser and was written by Agron Latifi.)