The Imagination Library started out as a small program in Parton's native Sevier County in Tennessee. She was inspired to mail out books to kids in the area after watching her father, Lee, struggle with the fact that he never learned to read or write.
“My dad was a very hardworking man. He grew up in a family of 14 or 15 kids, and my dad never had a chance to go to school,” Parton said. “Daddy couldn’t read or write, but he was the smartest person I’ve ever known. I wanted to do something special for him. As the years went by, I saw how he thought he couldn’t learn to read after he was grown. It was just one of those things. So, I had the idea to do something special for him.”
Parton said at the event that the only book her family had in their house when she was growing up was the Bible, and her inspiration for launching the Imagination Library comes from Ephesians 6:2-3. The verse that says, "'Honor your father and mother'— which is the first commandment with a promise — so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the Earth."
“In the Bible, where it talks about honoring your father and mother, I don’t think that necessarily means to obey them,” Parton said. “I think it means to bring honor to their name, if you can.”
Lee Parton, who died in 2000, lived long enough to see the Imagination Library become a success.
“(Daddy) took such pride in the fact that the little kids called me ‘The Book Lady.’ He was prouder of that than anything,” Parton said. “So it started from a true place in my heart, and it’s done so much good for so many people through the years.”
Parton is living proof of the power of reading. At age 72, she credits her love of books with keeping her mind sharp and helping her create her music and other projects.
“I do some of my best thinking when I’m reading,” Parton said. “I read at least 52 books a year. About a book a week, I try to read. I’ve just always been a reader. There’s a part of my brain that can kind of think of other things while I actually am reading. It does relax my body, and I’ve always just loved to read. I think, with kids, too, with the books that they read, it kind of inspires you to dream. If you can dream, that’ll lead you to success and to other things. That’s why I think it’s so important to get the books in the hands of all these special little kids so they can start early.”
More information on Dolly's Imagination Library can be found at ImaginationLibrary.com.