Dolly Parton
Mountain Press
December 14, 2002
Imagination Library gains new partners
By Greg Wilkerson

Dolly Parton is in town this weekend for her annual Christmas concerts and to announce a new partnership between her Imagination Library and the various Native American communities in the country.

Parton, who claims to have Cherokee blood running through her, greeted representatives from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Cherokee Nation, the National Center for Family Literacy and the Parents as Teachers.

"Which part of me do you think looks Cherokee?" Parton asked Friday as she introduced Chad Smith, chief of the Cherokee Nation.

His answer: her voice.

A sample of the Cherokee voice was demonstrated during the event by the Cherokee Nation Youth Choir.  The group of children sang in the Cherokee language before Parton took the stage.

The choir was started to "keep our language alive," Smith said.

Parton's Imagination Library provides books for young children in communities across the nation.  Every month of the child's first five years a book arrives in the mail.  The program provides books for every child in selected communities through partnerships with local businesses and organizations.  There were 121 communities in 25 states before the new partnership was formed.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has partnered with Parents as Teachers and the National Center for Family Literacy to pay $27 per child, so American Indian children can get books.

Parton's program will now reach 60 additional Native American communities that have been added.

"It's about dreams and opportunities for Indian children," said Neal McCaleb, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs of the Department of Interior.  "You can't read if you don't have books."

In 2003 the Imagination Library intends to introduce several books into the program that address Native American culture and themes.

"We're hoping next year to give out a million books," Parton said.

During the event Parton signed a pair of books for two Native American children, and presented Dr. Renee O'Leary of Newark, Del., with the second annual "Chasing Rainbows Award" for her work as a teacher.

Parton also received gifts from representatives of the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes.  From the Cherokee she was given a quilt, and the Choctaw gift was a hand-woven basket.

Parton performed Friday night and has shows scheduled for today in Dollywood.  The performances are sold out.

"Three years of Christmas concerts," Parton said.  "It's become a tradition."

Parton grew up in Sevier County before becoming a country music superstar, but many young children knew her simply as the "book lady," she said, and they believe that she personally delivers their books every month.  Parton said she would do it if she could because the program is that important to her.

"We can't do enough for the little kids, can we?" she asked.  "I'm just proud to do whatever I can."