It is hard to think that the people of Rotherham will hold a grudge against Dolly Parton. It is hard to think anybody could.
The country star hit the headlines. over the weekend when it was revealed that council leaders had delayed a meeting by one hour in order to welcome her to the South Yorkshire town, provoking accusations that democracy was being undermined.
Yesterday Parton, 61, shrugged off the controversy with characteristic charm, saying she could wait to meet the “sweet people” of Rotherham, who are to be the beneficiaries of her charitable children’s literacy scheme, the Imagination Library.
“I will let the old codgers fight it out among themselves,” she said. “I guess they are old codgers. I can say that because I’m an old codger myself.
“I never, ever get involved in politics. With politics you are not allowed to be honest. I don’t have time to deal with that. I would rather work with kids.”
Parton’s unlikely link-up tomorrow has come about because the town’s chamber of commerce went on a visit last year to Nashville organised with Athena International, an international business networking group for women.
While on the trip the council leader, Roger Stone, a country music fan, was introduced to Parton’s Imagination Library. From there, the link between the Rhinestone queen and the former coalmining town was forged. The Imagination Library, set up in the US in 1996, is a reading scheme that involves posting children a reading book every month until the age of 5. Funded by the singer’s Dollywood Foundation, with backing and business sponsorship from communities that sign up to the scheme, it has spread to 700 counties in 43 American states and last year opened in Canada.
Rotherham is the first place to implement the scheme in Britain. The chamber of commerce is sponsoring the cost of the books in the first year.
The scheme aims to promote the pleasure of reading. Children who cannot read and write to the expected level by the end of primary school have only a one in five chance of achieving five good GCSEs, so an early start to reading is a crucial determinant of future earnings, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research.
Separate research last week from the National Foundation for Educational Research found that the children who did best in school at the age of 10 were those who grew up in the homes with the most books.
Parton herself is an avid reader. She grew up in a home with 11 siblings where the only book was the Bible. Her own father was illiterate. “I saw at first hand the struggle that caused,” she has said.
The Imagination Library mirrors existing projects in the UK, such as the government-backed Book Time, run by the Booktrust charity and Pearson, the publisher, which distributes books to children when they start primary and secondary school.
Tony Mannion, the independent councillor whose outrage at the delayed council meeting sparked the controversy over Parton’s visit, will not be attending the launch tomorrow. “I never go to anything where there is a free lunch, or if I do go I bring my own food,” he said.
Source: London Times