Dolly Parton Spreads Gift of Reading to Philadelphia Children in a Big Way

Dolly Parton
Country Music, Country Music News, Dolly Parton, Nashville, News

Fans and folks of every age get all warm and fuzzy over Dolly Parton.  Whether someone is 6 or 65, every age group has its own reasons for cherishing the philanthropist and country music queen.  Long-time fans reminisce and recite old-time classics from the Dolly Parton catalog, like “Joshua” or “Someone I Used to Know”.  While little ones know the cultural icon as “The Book Lady” who loves children and delivers books to millions of mailboxes through her Imagination Library.

From her first successes as an artist, Dolly Parton devoted her efforts to give back, starting with Sevier County and stretching farther and wider than the philanthropist ever dreamed.  In 1995, the “Love Is Like a Butterfly” singer never conceived that she would lead the world as a light through the pandemic, but she knew that reading opens a trove of possibilities and joy of life that her own father never experienced.   She planted the seeds of the Imagination Library in honor of Robert Lee Parton.  Today, the preschool literacy program serves the US, the UK, the Republic of Ireland, and Australia. Notably, it delivers books addressed to each enrolled child monthly.

Some 2000 children in the City of Brotherly Love have big reasons to smile, as the Philadelphia Inquirer confirms.  Philadelphia is the latest city to be part of Dolly Parton’s “greatest achievement” of giving books for little hands and hearts to hold and cherish in the lap of a parent or just before bed.  Dolly Parton aims to make future readers her lifetime legacy.

Birth is not too soon to start, Dolly Parton knows

Country Music Alley details the extensive process and the dedicated teamwork between the small Imagination Library staff and program volunteers in the areas served by the program.  While every book selection approved by the Imagination Library undergoes rigorous scrutiny by a panel of experts, any organization or entity within a defined ZIP code or government boundary is eligible as an “affiliate” to ensure that children from birth to age 5 receive one book per month.

Dolly Parton reflects often on her memories of huddling around her mother with her siblings to hear Bible stories or songs from the old country, like “Bury Me Beneath the Willow.” Parton understands the bonding that uniquely happens between a child, the parent, and a beloved book.  “Some mothers read to the baby in utero,” Annie Norman of the Delaware state library system describes. Anytime a parent shares a story, literacy grows for the entire family. “It’s never too early to start,” the librarian insists.  The Delaware initiative rolled out last month, and Philadelphia hopes to sprout its own literacy successes from those area branches.  60 titles are set to sail from post offices to parents and children in the next several weeks.  Naturally, the Imagination Library founder, and “Chief Inspiration Officer” gets to send her favorite book first.

Guess the Imagination Library Book that Dolly Parton likes best

No one knows the source of Dolly Parton’s boundless energy, apart from divine blessing, for the star who loves to portray angels.  With her buoyant spirit and “never give up” attitude, it’s by no means surprising that her favorite book in the entire Imagination Library is The Little Engine That Could.

Dolly Parton’s preferred title always goes first among the books sent to children,  “That’s Dolly’s favorite book,” Dollywood Foundation regional director, Christy Crouse adamantly stresses.  When the boss is a world-class benefactor like Dolly Parton, she gets what she wants, particularly for the good of growing great readers and self-reliant citizens.

Titles penned by Dolly Parton, including her storybook adaptation of Coat of Many Colors and I Am a Rainbow, fill the shelves of the home libraries.  Each month, a letter from Dolly accompanies the books. At age 5, the final book, Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come! marks graduation from the program.

Special challenges and no Dollywood visit yet

Because of limited funds, and Philadelphia program will start as a pilot in only one ZIP code. Partnerships with publishers like Penguin Random House bring the cost of the libraries to within the $120 range, very meaningful savings.  Dolly Parton brings the weight of her name and her brand to this beautiful, lifelong cause.  Her business skills likely help, too.

Pandemic conditions have put great strain on many segments of the Philadelphia learning population.  At-home learning leaves many young students starving for actual teacher instruction.  Few have full broadband access, and some are lagging behind severely in academics.  Reading is a lifeline to keep all forms of learning alive.  Whether she knows it or not, Dolly Parton is a substitute teacher in these times.

Spanish and English households divide the targeted area.  One of the greatest difficulties is following up with children and families who move regularly or without notice.  Norman aims to employ a software tracking program that will also allow correlation between the literacy program and school performance. Dolly Parton at least had the advantage of not leaving school until she was ready.

Dolly, and Dollywood, can wait

One place Dolly Parton is not allowed to go to, at least for now, is her Dollywood theme park.  Following suit with many other states, lifted restrictions in Tennessee mean that the family-friendly venue opens to the public this weekend.  According to an MSN per local station feature, the star is under doctor’s orders to stay away.

“The doctors say I need to wait until I’ve had the second dose of the vaccine,” Dolly Parton relates.  “Let’s all be patient,” she encourages, elaborating that “all of this stuff is going to be over soon.  The “Here You Come Again” songwriter affirms “it won’t be long until we can be together.” A full lineup of activity is set for the rest of the year at Dollywood.  In the meantime, Parton can join her children and cozy up with a good book until the all-clear comes.

“The books are fabulous,” Norman exclaims, and Dolly Parton is the engine who does in driving those pages straight to the hands of growing people who will read and succeed for a lifetime. The Imagination Library reaches almost 2 million children now, and the next 2000 are ready in Philadelphia.

“I think about my dad,” Dolly Parton muses.  She ponders how “he must be up there thinking ‘Yeah, you did it!

Yes, Dolly, you did and you still are.


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