Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

Inspiring Children to Dream More, Learn More, Care More and Be More

There are few artists who embody the essence of country music quite like Dolly Parton. Down to earth, authentic and utterly charming, this country legend has enchanted audiences for over 40 years. Not only has Dolly topped the Billboard country music charts 25 times, she boasts 41 career top 10 country albums and is the most honoured female country performer of all time. Over the last two decades this iconic singer/songwriter has not only taken great joy pursuing her own dreams, but has been dedicated to helping the next generation discover their lifelong passions as well. The seeds of these dreams are often found in books, and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is committed to helping them grow.

It is well known the early years of a child’s life are incredibly important to their development and future success. Like tiny sponges, these little ones are able to absorb an extraordinary amount of information. While there are many things parents can do to give their kids a great start in life, research affirms that reading to preschoolers regularly is the single most important thing to prepare them for kindergarten. Unfortunately not all children have access to age-appropriate books, which puts them at a disadvantage before they even begin school. To ensure all children receive the best start, Dolly Parton created her Imagination Library, a program that gives kids access to books and inspires parents to read to their children as much as possible.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL) was launched in her hometown, Sevier County, Tennessee in 1996 with the intention of building a personal library for every preschooler in the county. To benefit, parents in Sevier simply need to register each of their preschool aged children — which can be done anytime from birth up until the age of five. Once they’re registered, the child will receive a free book every month until his or her fifth birthday.

Each book has been carefully selected by a committee of individuals with backgrounds in education, child development, academia and early childhood literacy. Many of these books have also been customized with title specific reading tips for parents. The children’s classic The Little Engine That Could™ is the first book each child receives and Look Out Kindergarten Here I Come by Nancy Carlson is the final book in the collection.

After the tremendous success of the pilot project, Dolly announced she would extend the program to other communities across the country and internationally. Since then, DPIL has spread like wildfire. Today, 1.1 million children are provided with a book each month, and a total of 90 million books have been gifted around the world — a milestone beyond Dolly’s wildest dreams.

With the exception of the program in Sevier County, TN; Branson, Missouri and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which are funded by Dolly and her businesses directly, each community is responsible for securing their own financial support. In fact, the success of DPIL is largely attributed to the support of the 1,500 local sponsors who fund the program for the children in their communities. These sponsors include local, state, provincial and federal government; United Way, Rotary, Kiwanis, community foundations, businesses, private foundations, educational foundations, hospitals, and libraries. It is these sponsors that cover the wholesale cost of the books and mailing, register the children for the program and manage their local database.

The Dollywood Foundation is responsible for managing the book and mailing system, overseeing the database, providing technical assistance in setting up the program, assisting with public relations and marketing materials, working with Dolly on national/international promotional efforts, providing staff assistance to the national committee that selects the books, and convening the growing network of communities to inspire, share and innovate.

Over the last few years DPIL has expanded in our own backyard. Currently more than 19,000 Canadian children are registered to receive a book each month, and more than 800,000 books have gifted across the country. The largest DPIL community in Canada is Fort McMurray, with 2,600 children participating in the program. Every newborn in the Yukon Territory is eligible to enroll, similarly all 64 First Nation communities in Manitoba participate in DPIL.

The program has even come to Ontario. The Ontario Ministry of Education has entered a pilot project to expand child and family programming throughout Ontario First Nations communities over the next two years using the DPIL program.

This pilot will include 5000 First nation children in the province, with the intention of matching this effort with $500,000 of private donations. The ultimate goal is that every First Nations preschool child in the province will receive a book each month.

The selection of books has been carefully tailored for Canadian children. In 2017, 19 new books have been added to our national DPIL program including GREAT by Glen Gretzky and Lauri Holomis and A Northern Alphabet by Ted Harrison. These books have Canadian content and/or are authored/illustrated by a Canadian. Dolly Parton’s own children’s book “COAT OF MANY COLORS”— which debuted in October 2016 — has also been selected as part of the Imagination Library.

2016 was an incredible year for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, reaching the milestone of 1.1 million books sent per month. With your help 2017 can be even greater. Become a champion of the Imagination Library in your community, and see for yourself the impact this simple gift can have on the lives of children and their families.