Dolly Parton Shares the Touching Origin of the Imagination Library

by Clayton Edwards

Over the years, Dolly Parton has racked up a long list of titles. She’s a country music icon, a movie star, an entrepreneur, the owner of a theme park, and a philanthropist just to name a few. However, her favorite among those might be “The Book Lady.” That’s what kids started calling her because of her Imagination Library.

The Imagination Library gives free books to children around the world. More specifically, Dolly Parton’s foundation sends one book per child per month from the time they’re born until they turn five. So, kids who get signed up for the program early enough can receive 60 books from Dolly. As far as book collections go, that’s nothing to sneeze at. More importantly, though, it has been proven that kids whose parents read to them regularly have higher literacy rates. Literacy is the cornerstone of education.

In a recent interview with Arkansas PBS, Dolly Parton revealed the touching origin of her Imagination Library.

Dolly Parton on the Origins of Imagination Library

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is now available to kids across the United States and in several other countries. However, it all started with Dolly wanting to make a difference in her home community in East Tennessee. About the inspiration behind the foundation, she said, “I came from a very big family… a very poor family on both sides. Most of the people in that part of the country didn’t get the chance to go to school because the school was way off. And, most of the kids had to help out with the family.”

Dolly Parton then explained how that affected people in her family. “My own dad couldn’t read and write, but Daddy was so smart. He just didn’t get that opportunity to go to school. It just kind of bothered him.” About starting the Imagination Library, Dolly said, “It’s something I wanted to do to honor him.”

The Imagination Library Started Small  

Dolly Parton revealed that she enlisted her father to help her start the Imagination Library. In the beginning, she said, “I thought I’ll start this little program getting children to read when they’re very young in their most impressionable years… I thought maybe it might go a couple of counties over. Then, the governor at the time, Phil Bredesen, he loved the program. So, it went state-wide.”

Now, children across the United States and in Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia can get books from Dolly Parton. Soon, she said, the Imagination Library will be sending books to Scotland.  

Dolly Parton said that she leaned on her father to help her get the Imagination Library started. After it took off, Dolly said, “He took such pride in hearing kids call me The Book Lady. He really felt like he helped and he really did.”

“It made me feel good that Daddy took such pride in that,” Dolly said.