Dolly Parton has always been one of those larger-than-life figures to me. I’ve seen her acting in movies and singing. She’s got that spitfire persona that takes the world by storm, and she doesn’t apologize for being just exactly who she is and showcasing where she came from. She famously says, “When I was a little girl, I used a tobacco stick and a tin can and pretended it was a microphone, and I sang on my front porch, imagining I was on the Grand Ole Opry.”
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It didn’t take her long. She was writing songs at 5 years old, and she made her Opry debut at 13 years old. Along the way, she’s also been known for her incredible generosity, which is why it’s so great to see that her Imagination Library just received the David M. Rubenstein Prize worth $150,000 from the Library of Congress.
Dolly launched Imagination Library in 1995 as a way to give back and inspire a love of reading in young kids. Her father could not read or write, but she talks about the fact that he was one of the smartest men you’d care to know. Her father also was proud of Dolly’s efforts with the Imagination Library. She said that he liked to hear the kids call her book lady, and giving away books was also a way to honor him.
“When I was growing up in the hills of East Tennessee,” Dolly famously says. “I knew my dreams would come true.” She adds, “I know there are children in your community with their own dreams. The seeds of these dreams are often found in books and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world.”
What Has Dolly Accomplished?
Dolly reached the milestone of 100 million books given away in 2018, and now, she’s gifted more than 165 million books. In their statement, the Library of Congress says, “Since 2014 when the Imagination Library received ‘best practice’ recognition from the Library of Congress Literacy Awards, the Dollywood Foundation has strategically positioned the Imagination Library for aggressive growth.”
Dolly’s Imagination Library program has already accomplished an amazing feat by working to “improve literacy on an international scale and create special moments for children and families.” Now, the $150k prize will further support the goals and mission of the Library as it continues to send more than 1.8 million age-appropriate books to children around the world.
Why Is Her Effort So Important?
It’s easy to forget what a huge problem illiteracy still is around the world, with an estimated 773 million illiterate adults. While illiteracy is a bigger problem in some countries than in others, women are more likely to be unable to read and write, which will seriously dampen their ability to ever gain equal rights with men or even the most basic opportunities.
The Imagination Library books are being used to solve illiteracy and delayed reading trends in the US as well. The news appears to have been mostly overlooked in the pandemic shuffle in 2020, but Imagination Library was able to enroll every child under 5 years old in Ohio to receive books. The effort was further supported by $16 million in funding, authorized by the Ohio General Assembly.
These books may seem like just a drop in the bucket in the grander scheme of chronic illiteracy. It’s not just one book. It’s a series of books, from birth to the age of five — a time that’s so critical to a child’s word development and comprehension.
What are your thoughts on Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please post in the comments below.
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