Dolly Parton
Reading Today
February/March 2003
A chat with "the Book Lady"

After the press event in December, Dolly Parton gave exclusive one-on-one interviews to a few select media outlets, including Reading Today.  Here's what Parton had to say about books, teachers, and reading.

"I've just always loved books," Parton said.  "If you can read, you can do anything.  You can educate yourself if you can read.  I prefer books over TV and movies.  I love the way they look, the way they feel, the way they smell.  I love everything about them."

Parton recalled her own upbringing in a poor family where books were scarce.  Her father, who died a couple of years ago, was a smart man, a good provider, and a wonderful father, she said, but he never learned to read.  He took pride in the fact that she finished school and chose reading as the cause she promoted.

Parton says she got involved in the Imagination Library "from a deep place in my heart."  It's so important that children learn to love books at an early age, she added.

The Imagination Library, Parton Said, encourages children to learn to read so they can do more and can reach their dreams.  The Little Engine That Could, the program's signature book, is about teaching children to have faith in themselves—just as she always had, even when times were hard.  "I'm the Little Engine That Did," she added, smiling.

Parton herself has contributed to the field of children's literature with her picture book Coat of Many Colors, based on her hit song of the same title.  The story tells about a coat she owned as a child that her mother stitched together out of many different pieces of cloth.  Although the other children at school made fun of her, Parton took pride in her coat and the love that her mother had sewed into it.

"When we first started, we thought [the Imagination Library] would really help children at a very young age," Parton said.  However, the program has grown even beyond her expectations.  The Imagination Library now operates in more than 180 communities in 25 states, and the new governor of Tennessee wants to extend the program to all children throughout the state.

Parton recalled that she wasn't much of a student in school . She was always daydreaming about a music career in Nashville.  But she stuck it out and remains glad she did.  She credits one particular teacher, Archie McMahan, as having had a great influence on her.  "I loved her, and I learned everything she taught," Parton said.  "She gave me a love of books."

Parton has great respect for teachers in general, and she hopes her Imagination Library project helps more children enter school prepared for reading and eager to learn.  "Personally, I think teachers are the most underpaid and underrated people there are," Parton said.  "In some ways, they have as much influence on children as parents.  Sometimes they have even more.  Thanks for all you do for our children."