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How Dolly Parton is instilling a love of reading in children across Australia

On a remote cattle station 100 km from Catherine, three young children eagerly await the mail bag in which each of them brings a special package once a month.
The parcels are personally addressed to him and contain a specially selected new book.
Mathieson Station mom Rebecca More-Bell says it’s causing a lot of excitement for her four-year-old and almost two-year-old, and increasingly, her baby.
“They are desperate for us to read them a book. It shows that we think books are important. It teaches them to take care of their books and that reading is a valuable skill.
They love it,” she told SBS News.

Mathison Station may be a long way from Hollywood, but the books come courtesy of one of its most beloved stars, Dolly Parton, whose Imagination Library gives books to more than two million children ages birth to five in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland and Australia every month.

Funded by Parton’s charity The Dollywood Foundation and in partnership with local communities, the Imagination Library is one of many philanthropic initiatives the 76-year-old has spearheaded, including supporting those affected by natural disasters and providing college scholarships.
Other projects remained under consideration, some for years. Parton is believed to have quietly paid for many Tennessee high school band uniforms over the years, while she reportedly used the songwriting loyalty she earned from her cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” , to buy a shopping center in Nashville that supports the surrounding black neighborhood.
And at the end of 2020, we learned about one of her greatest gifts:.
Last week, Parton received the Carnegie Medal for Philanthropy at Gotham Hall in New York. But before receiving the award, she told The Associated Press that she didn’t do it for attention.

“But look! I get a lot of attention doing this,” she added.

Dolly Parton laughs off the idea that she’s some secret philanthropist. “I’m not doing this for attention,” she told The Associated Press shortly before receiving the Carnegie Medal. Source: AAP / Andres Kudacki/AP

The country music star, who has sold more than 100 million records worldwide and won 11 Grammy Awards, said in her speech that she gives her heart.

“I never know what I’m going to do or why I’m going to do it. I just see a need, and if I can fill it, I will,” she said.
Parton’s inspiration for the Imagination Library was her father’s inability to read and write.
The program has been operating in Australia since 2014 thanks to a partnership between Imagination Library and United Way Australia. It is managed and funded by local branches and partners in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

His influence is as great as the land he serves.

And it is in remote areas that Parton’s Imagination Library can be most effective.
According to the Imagination Library’s website, towns like Dumaji in remote Queensland have seen “marked improvements” in the school readiness of children who have received books from the Imagination Library.
Mandy Tootell from Katherine Isolated Children’s Services (KICS) runs the program for 60 children who occupy about a quarter of the area, including the indigenous communities of Yarralin, Amanbidji and Bula Camp.
“All our children are remote and they are socially and geographically isolated,” she told SBS News.

“The Dolly Parton Imagination Library is designed for those first four years when it’s important to pick up books. It helps prepare children for lifelong learning and a love of books, and that’s what fosters literacy.”

At the remote Matheson Cattle Station in the Northern Territory, 22-month-old Corbin reads a book sent free of charge by the Dolly Parton Library of Imagination.

Corbin’s mother, Rebecca More-Bell, says receiving books each month is very exciting for her three children. Source: SBS News

She said the Imagination Library receives many requests.

“The feedback is amazing. I’d love to see the imagination library grow.”
Ms Mor-Bell said getting books to families far away was not easy. For them, a newsagent in Katherine, which has a small selection of books, is 100km away, and the nearest bookshop is in Darwin, a four-hour drive away.
Buying online means a trip to the post office in Catherine.

“Books are not given to every family,” she said. “So for those people, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is amazing.”


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