An excited hush fell over the crowd at the Library of Congress as music legend Dolly Parton pulled fabric away to reveal the 100 millionth book donated by her charity, a a special edition of Coat of Many Colors, the picture book based on her hit song of the same title.
“Of all the things that I’ve done in my life, and it’s been a lot because I’ve been around a long time, but this is one of the most precious things and proudest I am of any program that I’ve ever been involved in in my life is working with the little kids,” Parton said. “It’s my belief that if you read, even if you don’t have the money to go to school, especially anymore, if you can find a book and read on anything you want to know you can educate yourself.”
Parton has long championed literacy efforts worldwide through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a book-gifting program that has mailed millions of books to more than 1 million children in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia for more than 20 years. Children receive one book every month from birth to age five through the program. A panel of early-childhood literacy experts selects age-appropriate books that are then individually addressed to recipients. Parton started the charity in her home county in eastern Tennessee in honor of her late father, who was illiterate.
“Dolly Parton’s work through her Imagination Library is awe-inspiring,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “They have counted the number of books given away—100 million, but there is no way to truly quantify the impact this program has had on developing young readers across America and in other parts of the world. This is an extraordinary gift to humankind.”
Hayden also announced a new collaboration between the library and the singer: an Imagination Library story time that will be live streamed from the Library of Congress on the last Friday of each month to its YouTube channel and Facebook page. Each session will feature a reading of a book for readers up to age 5 along with music and special guests.
After the book reveal, Parton read the book to school children in the audience and sang her hit song with them. Each child took home a copy of Coat of Many Colors, which has been lauded for its message of acceptance and used in anti-bullying lessons.
You can watch the whole ceremony here.