Dolly Parton is using her self-proclaimed fairy-tale face (and voice) for a great cause.
“That fact that I love kids and people relate to me looking like a Mother Goose or Cinderella — you know, one of those over-exaggerated cartoon characters — it gets children’s attention, and it keeps me young,” Parton, 71, tells PEOPLE ahead of the album’s release.
“We talk about responsibility, we talk about bullying,” she adds of the album’s themes. “We talk about giving, we talk about friendship, loyalty and all those wonderful little things, and we do it in a fun way. The songs are very uplifting, very singable. Hopefully, people are gonna get a kick out of this, and the kids are gonna love it.”
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The 9 to 5 legend launched the Imagination Library in 1995. Over the past 22 years, the organization has provided almost 100 million books to children in an effort to encourage a love of reading. And the story behind her inspiration is a tearjerker.
“I started it in honor of my dad,” Parton explains. “My dad was not able to read and write — he was a country boy with a bunch of kids, and he had to work instead of going to school when he was a little boy, and so he never had the chance to get an education.”
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“And it seemed to really bother him a lot and I thought, ‘Well, what can I do for my precious dad?’ ‘Cause he was the greatest daddy in the world and one of the smartest people I’d ever known,” she adds. “So I said, ‘Dad, why don’t we put together a little program where we give children books from the time they’re born, once a month, until they start school?’ ”
“That way, they can learn to read, love books. If you can read, you can kinda self-educate,” Parton adds. “Now we’re all over the world. We’ve given away almost 100 million books, and all the money from this project goes into the Imagination Library to put more books in the hands of more children.”