Dolly Parton
Yorkshire Post
December 5, 2007
Superstar Dolly aims to be the 'book lady'
By Rowena Mason

It's a long way from the glamour of Hollywood or even Dollywood. But country music star Dolly Parton chose a former steel works in Rotherham to launch a scheme encouraging young children to read more books.

The 61-year-old singer's Imagination Library project aims to give each registered child a new book every month until they go to school.

Dolly Parton's drive to improve children's literacy started 10 years ago in the United States and yesterday councillors at the Magna Science Centre in Rotherham hosted the first European trial of her scheme.

The Oscar-nominated star joked with the crowd and sang two hit songs, but she stressed her reason for being in the country was to become the "book lady" for South Yorkshire children.

Inspired by a "dirt poor" childhood in Tennessee, she said her desire to get children reading stemmed from both her father's lack of school education and her own love of reading the Bible.

"Even if you never get to go to school a day of your life, if you can read, you can go and find that book in a library," she said.

"If a child has a book in its hands, feels it's special and believes in it, then it will learn to read it and want to touch it and make people take care of it.

"I believe with all my heart that it is going to make a difference in Rotherham."

The Imagination Library project, run by the singer's Dollywood Foundation, has already posted 10 million books to children in the US and Canada and organisers hope that Rotherham's example will see it spread across Europe.

Bringing Dolly Parton's literacy scheme to Rotherham was the idea of council leader Roger Stone. He managed to persuade the busy star that the South Yorkshire town has much in common with her home town during a trip to Tennessee with the town's chamber of commerce last year.

The singer said: "People in Rotherham are very warm, very friendly I like it here better than the big cities."

The glamorous star, whose fortune is worth an estimated 110m, laughed off this week's controversy about her appearance clashing with a scheduled council meeting.

"We're not here to cause trouble we're just here to do something for the little children," she said.

Mr Stone said: "Having her here is unbelievably fantastic, because she has such a wow factor. I have seen her just melt people."

He added: "I think she has a lot in common with Rotherham people. She comes from an industrial area and she's very down to earth."

Rotherham Chamber of Commerce chairman Rob Hannon said businesses supported improving literacy because employers increasingly saw poor standards of basic skills in job interviews.

The project is due to start handing out books in Rotherham early next year.

Source: Yorkshire Post