Dolly Parton wasn’t supposed to keep books in the house growing up

Dolly Parton has always loved books and is happy to share a book recommendation in interviews. She said she flips through about a book a week, implying that her personal library is very impressive. Growing up, however, she could barely keep books in her house. She explained why her father never wanted the children to have books at home.

Dolly Parton | Shannon Finney/Getty Images

The 9 to 5 singer grew up in a two-room house

Parton was the fourth of 12 children, all of whom lived in the family’s one-bedroom home.

“We used to hear about people getting rich and you’d have all the food you wanted to eat and fancy clothes and houses,” she said in 1978, according to the book Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton. “In our mind, there were so many of us that anyone with a clean house was rich.”

The house had no electricity or running water, so the children bathed in the nearby river in the summer.

“It was like a big bath,” she said. “And we would all go swimming and we would wash our hair, we would wash each other’s hair. The soap was running down the river and we were so dirty we left a ring around the Little Pigeon River.

Dolly Parton’s dad didn’t want her to keep library books at home

While Parton enjoyed reading – his favorite book growing up was The little engine that could — the family did not keep many books in the house. It was to protect the books.

“We couldn’t have too many books in our house,” she said in a 2018 interview with American Libraries Magazine. “Dad always said, ‘Don’t bring these books from school because I can’t afford them.’ We had so many little kids – they chewed on them, tore them up, peed on them, etc.

Despite her limited access to books, Parton said she reads whenever she can.

“The main book in our house was the Bible. My mother would read it to us,” she said. “And we read at school. As soon as I could get my hands on something, I loved reading. I still do. We didn’t have the Imagination library growing up, but it would have been nice if we had — we had enough kids, we would have had plenty of books at home! We were in a country school, so we didn’t have a library there. Most of the time we had the books in the classroom. When we went to high school, we had access to a library.

Dolly Parton launched her Imagination Library to provide children with free books

Parton launched his Imagination Library, a program that sends free books to children each month, in honor of his father.

“It all started with a simple and very personal dream 22 years ago,” she said. “My father was a brilliant man, but he never had the chance to go to school. Dad couldn’t read or write, and that always seemed to paralyze him, and he was embarrassed by it. So that inspired me to start the program.

She hopes the program will instill a love of reading in participating children.

“We started it in our home county – I was just going to have this little program where we gave books to kids,” she said. “As soon as they are born, they receive a book by post once a month with their little name on it. When they are able to walk, they love going to the mail and looking for their little books. It’s just something to inspire them to read.

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