Dolly Parton: A Force in Literacy

I am a big fan of Dolly Parton. And not just because of the video she made while getting her Covid shot to the tune of her song Jolene, lyrics reworked to “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine…” Under her fancified outer self beats a heart that’s true.

In 1995 she launched a formidable effort to raise literacy in Sevier County, Tennessee, where she grew up: The Imagination Library. Since its inception, this book-gifting program has mailed monthly high-quality books to children from birth to age five, no matter their family’s income.

The program grew quickly and now serves children in the US, Canada, UK, Australia and Ireland. As of January 2022, 174 million books had been gifted. Wow.

The books are chosen by committee and purchased in wholesale agreement with Penguin Random house. My sister Kate and I were lucky to have our book SQUEAK! included in the Imagination Library. And this year the Dollywood people created an English/Spanish edition of ISLAND LULLABY for distribution.

As you probably know, Dolly’s main gig is not literacy. She is a memorable performer and remarkable composer, known for having written Jolene and And I Will Always Love You on the same day. A ten-time Grammy winner, Dolly says, “I take myself more serious as a songwriter than anything else. I always say I’ve written about 3,000 songs and three good ones, but I just love the joy of writing.”

Now Dolly writes books, too. Monday, March 7, she and author James Patterson co-released Run, Rose, Run, a novel about navigating the music industry in Nashville. The previous Friday she had released her latest studio album with the same title.

I think it was on an American Idol show where she was the guest coach that I heard her advise a contestant, “Figure out who you are and do it on purpose.” That has sure worked for Dolly.

7 responses to “Dolly Parton: A Force in Literacy

  1. Congratulations, Laura, to you and your sister.
    Very cool. Lucky children who will now get to read them.
    Ms Parton is a remarkable woman.

  2. Gretchen Hansen

    I love the parallel of the Laura-Kate Sisters corresponding to the Dynamic Duo of Dolly-James, especially with the selection of the the TWO handcrafted picture books for the Imagination Library!!! WooHoo!!! Going somewhere Good!

  3. Congratulations Laura and Kate for being part of the wonderful Imagination Library. Love that quote about being yourself on purpose. –Susan Britton

  4. Just discovered Native American writer David Heska Wanbli Weiden who has a wonderful children’s book–Spotted Tail–which he distributes to all the families on the Rosebud reservation. He gets no royalties from the sales. Also doing great work with books, reading, and sharing Native American history.

  5. Wow! I had no idea she was writing books, now, too! The woman is amazing!

  6. She really is a hero, isn’t she? I love the way she honors “mountain music”, too, not just country and pop – real roots music, especially in her album “Little Sparrow.” I understand she grew up the 4th of 12 siblings in a one-room cabin in Tennessee hill country, so she knows what a treasure a storybook can be. You must be so proud, Laura, to have your books picked out by the Imagination Library & Dollywood!

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