Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library affiliates enjoyed four days in Pigeon Forge, TN during Homecomin’ 2017!

Local affiliates from Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States visited Dolly’s home in the Great Smoky Mountains during Homecomin’ 2017. The biennial celebration was held at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa. And visiting affiliates took advantage of all the amenities of the resort and the Smokies during their working conference. David Dotson is the President of the Dollywood Foundation which houses the Imagination Library. David said,

"We hosted the very first Homecomin' way back in 2001. We had just started to promote the Imagination Library and as I recall, we had about a dozen participants discussing how they could expand to their neighboring communities. Now the discussions are about expanding DPIL across entire states and provinces, becoming a part of public policy and celebrating over 100 million books gifted to our children."

The Conference

Homecomin’ is held every two years in Pigeon Forge, TN. This year’s conference offered attendees the chance to gain valuable insight into the overall growth of the program and highlighted some recent case studies. The conferenced kicked off with a major announcement.

The legislature in North Carolina allocated $10,000,000 to expand the program across the state. This decision is a huge boost for the program and more importantly a wonderful resource for children and their families in that state.

During the week, some affiliates were invited to share their own success stories about program sustainability. Other topics included fundraising as it pertains to building relationships within a community. Additionally, members of the Book Selection Committee, including program partners from Penguin Random House, shared the process of choosing the high-quality, age-appropriate books for each child group. Attendees also listened to presentations about engaging political figures and in-depth research on the Imagination Library’s impact.

Surprises & Celebrations

Little Engine That Could Wall Quilt at Imagination Library Homecomin' 2017

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library of Mendocino County, First 5 Mendocino, surprised the event staff with a beautiful handmade quilt. With permission from Penguin Random House, Renee M. Gannon from Ukiah, Canada made the beautiful Little Engine wall quilt. This display piece was raffled off at the end of the week to one lucky winner. Affiliates also celebrated Canada’s 150th birthday.

In keeping with the international gathering, attendees donned bunny ears and celebrated “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.” This classic story welcomes children into the program in the United Kingdom.

Visiting Author

Special guest and award-winning author Matt de la Peña charmed the audience with his personal stories. He shared his experience growing up as a mixed-race child in Southern California. Matt openly talked about the lack of books in his childhood home and the impact that had on his family. His book, “Last Stop on Market Street” and his personal experiences make him the ideal ambassador for early literacy awareness. His message is especially relatable to minority children and their families.

In reflecting on the program and Matt’s guest appearance at the conference, David Dotson said,

“We have reached the point where authors recognize the honor bestowed upon their work when their book is chosen for the Imagination Library. We have now hosted a number of illustrious authors who tell us it is not just the number of books distributed by us that is so impressive. Rather it is witnessing this vast network of organizations and governmental entities that are united in their efforts to inspire children to love to read and to love to learn.”

Matt's book, “Last Stop on Market Street” has beautiful illustrations by Christian Robinson. It takes readers on an energetic bus ride through a bustling city with CJ and his Grandma. Along the way, Grandma helps CJ see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them.

The Imagination Library Book Selection Committee unanimously voted to add Matt’s book to the 2016 Book List (Canada & USA)*. “Last Stop on Market Street” would go on to win the 2016 Newbery Medal. It also earned a 2016 Caldecott Honor and a 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. Furthermore, it became a #1 New York Times Bestseller.

*“Last Stop on Market Street” will appear in the United Kingdom’s 2018 Book List.

Entertainment & Fun

Rest assured, the week wasn’t all work and no play for this group. Affiliates visited several attractions during their time in the Smoky Mountains. They enjoyed nightly fireworks at Dollywood’s DreamMore as well as live music and a host of amenities at the resort.

Small groups formed for some shopping at The Island. While they were there, they posed for a photo in front of The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, a now iconic Pigeon Forge symbol. On one night, they took in a dinner show at Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Adventures. There they cheered on the Partons and the Owens families. They also went sightseeing and grabbed some photos of the Great Smoky Mountains.

On the final day, the entire group gathered at The Little Engine Playhouse inside Dollywood’s Heartsong Theatre. They watched the stage production of “Coat of Many Colors” based on Dolly’s book of the same name. In addition to this show, The Little Engine Playhouse will feature performances based on Jennifer Plecas’ “Pretend” and “The Little Engine that Could” by Watty Piper

Special Thanks & Looking Ahead

The Dollywood Foundation and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library would like to send a special thank you to everyone who helped make Homecomin’ 2017 a huge success. With a final thought, David Dotson said,

“Lastly, it is all too easy to be discouraged about the times we live in. When our network gathers for Homecomin', the discouragement evaporates and is replaced by an abiding belief that there is indeed more good than bad in the world. These are the inspiring leaders in their communities and they will never rest to insure that their children are given every opportunity in the world to thrive and succeed.”

Plans are already underway for Homecomin’ 2019!

Visit Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to learn more about this incredible program that now mails over one million free books each month to children in four countries!

Award-winning authors help Dolly Parton commemorate the Imagination Library's "One Million A Month" celebration!

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library reached a historic milestone. As of October 2016, one million children are set to receive one free book every month! Dolly celebrated the "One Million A Month" achievement at her sold-out concert in Pigeon Forge, TN on Nov. 15.

Several award-winning authors and illustrators, whose books appear in the program, congratulated Dolly and the organization with special videos.

Tomie dePaola - "Tomie dePaola's Mother Goose"

This award-winning author/illustrator has contributed his talents to nearly 250 books in his 40-year career. He discovered his love of storytelling at a young age and vowed to dedicate his life to creating beautiful books for children. His many accolades include the Smithson Medal from the Smithsonian Institution.

Matt de la Peña - "Last Stop on Market Street"*

Newbery Medal winner, Matt de la Peña is an advocate for diversity within children's picture books. He authored several books for Young Readers before discovering his passion for children's books after becoming a father.

Jacky Davis & David Soman - "Ladybug Girl"

Jacky Davis & David Soman are the creators of the beloved "Ladybug Girl" book series. This creative couple enjoys sharing a love of reading with their children, Lucy and Sam, who together inspired Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy.

*Matt de la Peña's "Last Stop on Market Street" is illustrated by Christian Robinson.

"Last Stop on Market Street," one of the many great titles in Dolly Parton's Imagination Library lineup for 2016, wins this year's Newbery Medal, the highest honor in children's literature.

LastStopAuthorIn 2016, "Last Stop on Market Street" received the coveted Newbery Medal. Each year the American Library Association selects one book as the most distinguished American children's book. "Last Stop on Market Street" is only the second picture book to receive the award. In addition to the Newbery, it earned a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. Before any of these, the Imagination Library Blue Ribbon Book Selection Committee chose it.

Author, Matt de la Peña was pleased the Imagination Library had an early interest in the book and impressed with the program’s incredible reach. He shared his appreciation for the Imagination Library, his approach to diversity, his response to winning the Newbery and much more in an in-depth interview.

Quick facts about author, Matt de la Peña
He went to college on a basketball scholarship.
He has authored 10 books, but only two are picture books - the rest are novels.
He grew up in San Diego, CA and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.
He likes to read Middle Grade and Young Adult books with strong female lead characters because of his daughter.
He plays guitar.
His favorite Dolly Parton movie is Steel Magnolias - despite being a “machismo” guy.
He is the first Latino man to win the Newbery Medal.

Imagination Library Interview with Matt de la Peña

Q. From where did you get your inspiration for "Last Stop on Market Street?"
A. I was thinking about this idea that all these young kids are told what they should want and how they think life should be. Around that time, my agent, he sent me an email and said, “Hey, I want you to check out this new illustrator I’m about to sign. His name is Christian Robinson. Here’s his blog, it’s called ‘The Art of Fun.’” There were a lot of illustrations on the blog. One of them was a boy on the bus with his grandmother. I said, “Wow, I really love that one.” So I spent the next few months trying to figure out what the story would be around that illustration.

Q. How did you react when you found out "Last Stop on Market Street" received the Newbery Medal?
A. I was completely shocked, and I still am. I was unaware that picture books could even be considered. You don’t think it’s possible for those kind of things to happen to you. I believe I threatened to kiss [the committee member who delivered the news] and all the other committee members.

Q. How do you feel about being the first Latino man to receive the Newbery Medal?
A. I’m a Mexican-American person, but I’m also bi-racial, I’m half white as well. I view myself as a Mexican writer, but I also write about feeling a little less Mexican than the rest of my family. It was a really powerful moment because I’ve always wanted to feel more a part of the community and the fact that I could bring a Newbery to the community, it just made me think of the incredible Latino and Latina authors that I’ve read and how this is for our community as much as it is for me.

Q. What did you think about the honor of being picked for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library?
A. I think it’s amazing. I think the mission that you guys have is what the book’s all about.

Q. In the book, Nana shows CJ how to see the best in people and situations. In your life, who or what influenced you to see the good in people and circumstances?
A. If I had to name one person who did that, it would be my grandmother. Her first language was Spanish, so she sometimes didn’t feel super comfortable with her English, but she would always be there. If good things happened to me or if bad things happened to me, she would always do the same thing, she would pat my knee and give me this look that said: “It’s all going to be just fine.”

Q. Can you share with us your thought process in how you created CJ's voice in the book?
A. Sure, because this was a big decision. I wanted to be authentic, and I wanted to be true to who this kid was, mostly his frustration. Here’s what I decided, I would rather record, basically onto the page, what I hear as opposed to trying to correct his English to be a teaching tool for parents and teachers. I just wanted to be as honest as possible.

Q. Can you recall a moment from your childhood when you saw something that you wanted, but it seemed as unattainable to you as the iPod was to CJ?
A. The biggest way that I felt that is college, I went to a school where nobody talked about college much. I grew up in a community where nobody talked about college. I thought people like us just didn’t go to college.

Q. How do you share your love of reading with your daughter?
A. We read to her non-stop. My daughter is a reluctant eater. She doesn’t really love food. She eats because she is supposed to eat. So we’ve developed this routine where if we read her books she’ll eat all her dinner. So we read to her for an hour during dinnertime, and we read to her before bed.

Q. Has your daughter inspired any stories that we might see in print soon?
A. She’s made me want to write more picture books because I see the magic of picture books. Watching her stare at the pictures and be hanging on every word and then watching her take the book and pretend that she’s reading by herself... it’s really one of the most incredible things about being a parent.

Q. In your essay, "Sometimes The 'Tough Teen' Is Quietly Writing Stories" you tell an inspiring story about your father and how books transformed him. How did you think your life would have been different had your dad found his love of reading and books when you were a child?
A. Looking back, I love the way it all evolved. My parents, I feel are lucky too because they’re still pretty young, because they had kids so young so they’re having this second life as educated people on the backend. It’s really amazing to see. One of the things my mom always says is that my dad is a better husband.

Q. The guitar player seems to bring the shift in CJ's view of his environment. Is music a big part of your life?
A. It’s a huge part, as a matter of fact, I’ve played guitar for probably 30 years. I’m still not that good, but I play it all the time. I think music is communication without words. In an interesting way, that’s what my career is all about, the music of language.

Q. At the end of the book, we discover CJ and Nana are on their way to volunteer to serve food to others. Do you have a volunteer spirit?
A. I really wanted to show, here’s two people - they don’t have enough money to have a car, and they’re riding the bus to a soup kitchen. I wonder if the audience is going to assume that they’re going there to eat, and I wanted to flip perception and say, “hey these people who don’t have much are going to serve.” So for me personally, that super important. One of my favorite parts of my job is that I get to go to underprivileged schools and talk to kids. That’s a really really powerful part of my career.

Follow Dolly Parton's Imagination Library for more author interviews and the latest news.

See the full list of 2016 Imagination Library books.

“Last Stop on Market Street” Text Copyright © 2015 by Matt de la Peña, Illustrations Copyright © 2015 by Christian Robinson. All rights reserved.

Publisher Credit:
"Last Stop on Market Street" is published by G. P. Putnam and Sons, a division of: Penguin Random House, 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014. Used with Permission
Copyright Notice:
Text Copyright © 2015 by Matt de la Peña, Illustrations Copyright © 2015 by Christian Robinson. All rights reserved.



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