COLUMN: What Dolly Parton knows

Anne DeGrace praises the country music star for her literacy work

She’s a Tennessee native and a Country Music Hall of Famer. She won a Golden Globe Award for her role in the movie Nine to Five. Known in part for her physique, when asked about plastic surgery, she tossed her blonde hair and said, famously, “If I see something sagging, bagging or dragging, I’ll get it nipped, tucked or sucked.”

When we think about Dolly Parton, all of these things might come to mind. What might not is Parton’s life-changing literacy work.

Parton’s Imagination Library began in 1995 with a vision to foster a love of reading in young children and their families in her home county by sending each child a book on his or her birthday — every year.

Now, the charity’s young recipients (up to age five) live in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and Canada. A staggering one million books are distributed each month, including books in audio and braille.

All that philanthropy in the name of literacy is well-founded: statistics show that the presence of physical books in the home increases literacy and academic performance in school.

A 2014 study entitled Scholarly Culture and Academic Performance in 42 Nations found that “the number of books in the family home exerts a strong influence on academic performance in ways consistent with the cognitive skill hypothesis, regardless of the nation’s ideology, political history, or level of development.”

Additionally, the report says that within the nations studied, “The gains are not equally great across the entire cultural hierarchy.

“They are larger at the bottom, far below elite level. Each additional book has a greater impact on the performance of someone who only has a small home library than it does on the performance of someone from a home overflowing with books. The second book and the third book have much greater impacts than the 102nd or 103rd.”

Locally, A Book Under Every Tree does, in a smaller but equally effective way, the same thing.

Originally conceived to add a literary component to the Nelson Food Cupboard’s Christmas hampers, the program—a partnership of the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL), the Nelson Public Library, and the Nelson Food Cupboard Society — has expanded to see people of all ages who access the Food Cupboard benefit from books this Christmas season.

Why all ages? When children see adults reading, it inspires them to read, too. Reading together creates bonds and great memories. A book shared is a gesture of love. And everyone deserves access to books.

Donations of new and nearly new books (please note: “nearly new” means books in fabulous shape) are being accepted until Dec. 13 at CBAL’s The Learning Place (608 Lake St.), the library, Otter Books, Play it Again Kids, Railtown Coffeehouse, Blue Sky Clothing, Pixie Candy Shoppe, and (on Sunday only) the Adventure Hotel.

Dolly Parton wasn’t always fabulously wealthy or famous. The fourth of 12 children, she is the daughter of a subsistence farmer and construction worker father and a mother who had a dozen children by the age of 35, all of whom lived in a one-room cabin in Locust Ridge, Tenn. When the doctor delivered Dolly, he was paid with a bag of oatmeal.

“If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one,” Parton said. A Book Under Every Tree is a great way to open new roads for everyone.

Anne DeGrace is the Adult Services Co-ordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. For more information on “A Book Under Every Tree” contact the Nelson Public Library Teen and Literacy Services Co-ordinator Melodie Rae Storey at or call 505-5683.

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