Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Celebrates Read Across America Day

Published March 2, 2021 / Last Updated March 2, 2021
Team Dolly is a collaboration of writers, editors, and publishers assembled by Dolly Parton Productions. Each member is dedicated to accurately publishing the latest news and historical archives of the living legend that is Dolly Rebecca Parton.

Managing Editor - Jacob Timmons
Senior Editor - Amanda Webb
Creative Director - Sarah Chapman
Team Dolly

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library celebrates beloved children’s book author and Read Across America Day.

Dolly Parton, also known as the Book Lady, and Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, are both synonymous with inspiring a love of reading with children around the world. Read Across America Day is celebrated on Tuesday, March 2, in observance of Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Today, the Imagination Library joins the nation in honoring the doctor of rhyme and his books that have been putting smiles on kids’ faces since 1937.

Since launching in 1995, the Imagination Library has gifted more than 150 million free books to children in five countries, continuing Dolly’s mission to inspire a love of reading around the world. Read Across America Day is a great way to celebrate the cherished books that inspire everyone to dream more through daring adventures, far-off lands, beloved characters and epic journeys.

Watch this video to learn more about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and the amazing people who help put more books into the hands of more children.

Team DollyDolly Parton’s Imagination Library Celebrates Read Across America Day

The Passion Behind The Imagination Library

Published December 8, 2020 / Last Updated December 9, 2020
Team Dolly is a collaboration of writers, editors, and publishers assembled by Dolly Parton Productions. Each member is dedicated to accurately publishing the latest news and historical archives of the living legend that is Dolly Rebecca Parton.

Managing Editor - Jacob Timmons
Senior Editor - Amanda Webb
Creative Director - Sarah Chapman
Team Dolly

People behind-the-scenes of the Imagination Library share their passion for the program and its mission.

Who paves the way for Imagination Library books to arrive at a child’s home, on time? Who makes sure that each book is addressed properly to each individual child? Who reads every book to evaluate quality, age level and content? Who spends days, weeks, months fundraising to ensure books are free for all registered children? In these Front Porch interviews you’ll meet a few of the people who have worked hand-in-hand to grow the program and introduce it to new cities, states and countries. Our Managing Editor, Jacob Timmons, connects via video call with David Dotson, Jeff Conyers and Ann Staup to talk about some of the key milestones of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. They share funny stories, talk about the challenges and rewards and even share their own ideas for writing a children’s book.

Growing The Program

David Dotson is the chief executive officer of the Dollywood Foundation, the nonprofit organization which houses the Imagination Library. David joined the Imagination Library team shortly after it launched. He led the initial replication efforts which grew the program. When it started, the Imagination Library mailed around 1600 books to children in Dolly’s home county in East Tennessee. When replication of the program was introduced more counties came on board followed by different states and eventually countries. In that effort, David worked closely with Jacob Timmons, who also happens to be president of S.D. Professionals, LLC, the company that created a fully-automated operation that streamlined the entire process for the Imagination Library program. In a recent Zoom call, David and Jacob talked about the early days of replicating the program in new areas.

In the interview, David is also quick to praise the unsung heroes of the Imagination Library. The people who “made our dream, their dream.” He said,

“There is always one, two, three, four people in an organization or in a community who are really the heroes, the unknown heroes…They are some of the most talented, most committed, most inspiring people in the world.”

The Joy Of Each Book

Jeff Conyers, brought on in 2011, is the President of the Dollywood Foundation and shares David and Jacob’s passion for growth and expansion. His devotion to the Imagination Library is unmistakable. The consummate champion for the program, Jeff is devoted to seeing each local affiliate succeed. He credits part of his enthusiasm to experiencing first-hand the benefits of monthly books arriving in the mail. Jeff said,

“I’ve had the opportunity to see it in my own family, right at home, and watch my kids grow up getting a book in the mail every month. Seeing them run up to me saying, ‘Hey, Daddy Daddy, will you read this book to me?’ And I know that’s happening in millions of homes all across the world right now because of the work that we get to come in and do every day.”

1.7 Million Books Each Month

The actual mailing of the books is a critical part of the Imagination Library’s story. Jacob called up Ann Staup the owner of Direct Mail Services, Knoxville, TN, to talk about how the books move from a warehouse in East Tennessee to the doorsteps of millions of children. Her business is sometimes referred to as “the little company who could” because they made such incredible strides to facilitate the needs of the program. For Ann and her team, this work is more than a labor of love, it’s challenged her to adapt and grow in many ways that she could never have imagined. A mailing list that started at 1600 books in 1995 now increases each month and the current monthly total sitting at 1.7 million books! In the interview, Ann talks about the automated mailing process, her devoted team and milestones she has witnessed over the years. Ann said,

“It’s a passion to make sure we are doing everything we can to make sure this program grows, the way that Dolly wants it to grow.”

Imagination Library Film Premiere

A new feature-length documentary spotlights Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and the thousands of local affiliates around the world who help make Dolly’s dream come true. The Library That Dolly Built will premiere on Facebook worldwide on December 9, 2020, at 7 PM EST. Additionally, a European premiere is set for Thursday, December 10 at 7 PM GMT. The film will premiere in Australia on Friday, December 11 at 7 PM AEDT.

The film features the music of Dolly Parton and is narrated by actress and author, Danica McKellar. It is produced by Land Grant Films, directed by journalism professor Nick Geidner, edited by video instructor Clinton Elmore and crewed by 15 University of Tennessee students.

Team DollyThe Passion Behind The Imagination Library

Honoring Robert Lee Parton…One Book At A Time

Published December 7, 2020 / Last Updated December 9, 2020
Team Dolly is a collaboration of writers, editors, and publishers assembled by Dolly Parton Productions. Each member is dedicated to accurately publishing the latest news and historical archives of the living legend that is Dolly Rebecca Parton.

Managing Editor - Jacob Timmons
Senior Editor - Amanda Webb
Creative Director - Sarah Chapman
Team Dolly

Dolly Parton brings honor to her father and his legacy through her Imagination Library.

Often in life, people face seemingly insurmountable challenges and for some their response to those challenges creates opportunities for greatness. In some cases, this transition can be immediate and in others, it can simmer for years.

In 1995, already an icon of American pop culture and an international success, Dolly Parton launched her Imagination Library. Today, it’s a global book gifting organization that has gifted nearly 150 million free books to children around the world. On many occasions, Dolly has shared her inspiration for the program. She said,

“When I started the Imagination Library, it was to honor my Daddy. My Daddy was so smart but he felt crippled with the fact that he couldn’t read and write.”

True, the concept was born in the mid-1990s, but in Dolly’s mind, the program actually sprang from a seed planted many, many years earlier. To fully understand the birth of the Imagination Library, we must first look at the life and childhood of Robert Lee Parton, Dolly’s father.

Many today know Robert Lee as played by Ricky Schroder in the popular NBC movies Coat of Many Colors and Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love. The real Robert Lee was born in March of 1921. The son of Walter and Bessie Parton, Robert Lee grew up in what was then a typical way with farm work being a big part of his childhood. For Robert Lee, and many children raised by farmers and sharecroppers, circumstances required them to abandon school and labor to help feed their families. It wasn’t seen so much as a choice but a duty.

Unfortunately, for Dolly’s father, this way of life meant that he didn’t get the chance to learn to read and write. Of course, he supplemented these skills by becoming a knowledgeable farmer, shrewd deal maker and skilled tradesman. He may have raised his family with humble means but he instilled a wealth of love and knowledge in each of his children. Still, he would carry the weight of illiteracy for much of his life. That is until Dolly made it her mission to set the wrong, right. Dolly said,

“When I got this idea to do the Imagination Library I wanted to get Daddy involved in it. I wanted him to help me with that so he could take the pride in that and so he did. He got to live long enough to hear the kids call me the Book Lady.”

Dolly doesn’t just credit her father’s disadvantage with being the inspiration for her Imagination Library, she sees it as his divine calling. If life was determined to keep him from learning to read as a child, Dolly believes God was just as determined to create something amazing because of it. Dolly said,

“I kept telling him, everybody has a different purpose in life and if nothing else maybe this is why you couldn’t read and write. Maybe God knew a long time ago that I was going to do something that would help millions of kids and people that couldn’t read and write. So I tried to give him that pride.”

In 2000, Robert Lee Parton departed this world knowing his daughter had made a difference in the lives and hearts of many children through the books gifted by her Imagination Library. At that time, the program was in the infant stages of a national replication effort that would expand its reach beyond Sevier County, Tennessee. Today, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has gifted nearly 150 million books to children in five countries. In 2018, Dolly Parton, the daughter of Robert Lee Parton – a humble farmer who never had the chance to learn to read and write – dedicated the 100th million book, which she authored herself, to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Indeed, an incredible way to honor her father.

The Imagination Library’s full story will play out in a new documentary called The Library That Dolly Built, premiering exclusively on Facebook on December 9, 2020, at 7 PM Eastern.

Team DollyHonoring Robert Lee Parton…One Book At A Time

Dolly Parton Talks About Documentary Featuring Her Imagination Library

Published December 4, 2020 / Last Updated December 4, 2020
Team Dolly is a collaboration of writers, editors, and publishers assembled by Dolly Parton Productions. Each member is dedicated to accurately publishing the latest news and historical archives of the living legend that is Dolly Rebecca Parton.

Managing Editor - Jacob Timmons
Senior Editor - Amanda Webb
Creative Director - Sarah Chapman
Team Dolly

Dolly Parton and the extraordinary people who help make the Imagination Library possible are now the focus of a new feature-length documentary.

When Dolly Parton launched her Imagination Library near her home in Sevier County, Tennessee, she dreamed of creating a program to inspire children to love reading and books. Along with her team at the Dollywood Foundation, she designed a way to make each book special for each child. Also, she was determined to offer this program to all children regardless of the family’s income. High standards for book quality and content was another feature developed in the early stages. With these guidelines, Dolly established the building blocks of the Imagination Library.

Today, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is the subject of a new feature-length documentary called, The Library That Dolly Built. It will make its worldwide premiere on Dec. 9, at 7 PM EST, exclusively on Facebook. Just like the program itself, the film has been years in the making. And now, finally, the complete story will be told including many of the stories of the people who share Dolly’s dream and…try each day.

“I think people are going to be real interested in seeing how it started, why it started and all these wonderful people all over the world that have gotten so involved in it to make it really what it is.” –Dolly Parton

150 Million Books

It began in 1995 and since then has gifted nearly 150 million free books to children around the world. Today Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library operates in all 50 US states. It’s well established in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. Most recently, the program began in the Republic of Ireland. In speaking about the impact of this documentary David Dotson, Chief Executive Officer of The Dollywood Foundation said,

“I think people know the Imagination Library but they never, never seem to fully understand how big it is.”

This unique book gifting organization is made possible by thousands of people around the world who live out the lyrics of Dolly’s inspirational song and the anthem of the Imagination Library, “Try.”

“So try to be the first one up the mountain
And try to be the first to touch the sky
And try to be one that makes a difference
Try to put your fear and doubt aside

And try to make the most of every moment
‘Cause if you never try you never win
So try each day to try a little harder
And if you fall, get up and try again

–“Try,” Dolly Parton

Exclusive Facebook Premiere

Dollywood and Abramorama in association with The Dollywood Foundation have partnered to present a free one-night-only live streaming world premiere event for The Library That Dolly Built, a behind-the-scenes look at Dolly Parton’s non-profit program, the Imagination Library. The world premiere event is a free live stream screening of the film, exclusively on Facebook, available nationally on Wednesday, December 9, at 7 PM EST / 6 PM CST / 4 PM PST. The screening will be followed by a conversation with, and an acoustic performance, by Dolly Parton. Viewers can tune into the live screening and conversation on Facebook.com/dollysimaginationlibrary.

In addition, the European premiere will be Thursday, December 10 at 7 PM GMT. Renowned actress, writer and politician, Baroness Floella Benjamin, DBE, will be on hand to kick off the evening.

The Australian premiere will be Friday, December 11 at 7 PM AEDT, with the multi-award-winning husband and wife duo Mark and Jay O’Shea introducing the film. Dolly Parton will also host fan Q&A and give a special acoustic performance following both the European and Australian premieres.

The film features the music of Dolly Parton and is narrated by actress and author, Danica McKellar. It is produced by Land Grant Films, directed by journalism professor Nick Geidner, edited by video instructor Clinton Elmore and crewed by 15 University of Tennessee students.

Team DollyDolly Parton Talks About Documentary Featuring Her Imagination Library

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Goes Statewide In Delaware

Published August 17, 2020 / Last Updated August 17, 2020
Team Dolly is a collaboration of writers, editors, and publishers assembled by Dolly Parton Productions. Each member is dedicated to accurately publishing the latest news and historical archives of the living legend that is Dolly Rebecca Parton.

Managing Editor - Jacob Timmons
Senior Editor - Amanda Webb
Creative Director - Sarah Chapman
Team Dolly

Delaware’s Governor Carney announced the statewide expansion of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Governor John Carney and First Lady Tracey Quillen Carney today joined American icon Dolly Parton to announce the statewide expansion of her namesake Imagination Library book gifting program and to encourage parents of young children across Delaware to participate. Dolly said,

“I am so excited to be working with Governor and First Lady Carney to bring my Imagination Library to children and families across Delaware! It takes visionary leaders to make this possible, and I can’t thank them enough. It is such an important time to share the gift of books and reading with as many children as we can, and I know Delaware families will love receiving a specially selected book in the mail each month.”

Children whose parents enroll them in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library through Delaware libraries receive one new book in the mail each month from birth until the child’s fifth birthday at no cost to the family, creating a personal library of as many as 60 books that can help form the foundation of a child’s early reading experience. Information and registration are available online via the Delaware Division of Libraries.

Books are selected by a national panel of early childhood literacy experts who review hundreds of children’s books each year and choose those that best fit the needs of children as they learn and grow.

“A healthy reading habit motivates, inspires and encourages creativity among children and adults alike,” said Delaware Governor John Carney. “One of the most important things we can do to improve childhood literacy is to give our children access to books, especially during this challenging time. It’s a simple but powerful idea. That’s why Delaware is proud to partner with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to improve literacy in our state. I want to thank our state librarian, Annie Norman, and my wife, Tracey, for spearheading this important effort in Delaware.”

Governor Carney announced a pilot launch of the Imagination Library program in five Delaware school districts in his 2020 State of the State address. Beginning in February, the Division of Libraries partnered with 13 local public libraries to make the program available to families within the pilot districts. So far, more than 3,800 children have been enrolled in the program and received more than 16,000 books.

First Chance Delaware

The Imagination Library program is also an important component of the First Chance Delaware initiative for children, led by First Lady Carney. The mission of First Chance Delaware includes promoting learning readiness through literacy and parent-child engagement.

“It’s a great privilege for me to serve as the honorary chair of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program in Delaware,” said First Lady Carney. “The quantity and quality of early language experience, starting at birth, correlates to children’s academic success at ages nine and 10—the target of our state’s grade-level reading campaign—which then correlates to the likelihood of high-school graduation, which correlates to virtually every positive life outcome from then on. Expanding the Imagination Library program in Delaware is a great investment in our families and in our future.”

For public libraries across Delaware, the Imagination Library program will serve as a springboard for children and parents to engage with their local libraries, participate in library programming and take advantage of the many resources libraries have to offer.

“It’s never too early to start reading to children,” said Delaware State Librarian Dr. Annie Norman. “Kids who read succeed! Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library helps develop the reading and library habit, a foundation for success throughout life.”

Parents who enrolled their children with the Imagination Library earlier this year through pilot school districts have already reported positive results, especially in light of the changes to daily lives and routines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The books we have received have helped a lot with his vocabulary and his ability to express himself,” said Lewes mom Ashely Durden about her son Quentin, who has been enrolled in the Imagination Library Program for the last two years. “Thank you for bringing reading to everyone in our district and our state; it’s a really great resource to get new books to children at a very young age.”

Visit Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library 

Team DollyDolly Parton’s Imagination Library Goes Statewide In Delaware