Dolly Parton Is Offering Free Books to All of California’s Kids

The music icon, who was just awarded $100 million to give to charities by Jeff Bezos, will expand her Imagination Library program across the state

Country music icon and philanthropist Dolly Parton’s charity Imagination Library will mail a brand-new book to every child in California who signs up for the program beginning in mid-2023, the governor’s office confirmed this week.

Parton’s program is part of the singer’s Dollywood Foundation and its Imagination Library, which has been giving away books to small children for just under 35 years. Now, the library—which currently delivers books in several U.S. states, the U.K., Canada, Ireland, and Australia—is planning a June expansion into California. More than 2.4 million children across the state will be eligible for the program, according to an October announcement from the library. 

In a video announcement featuring Parton posted to Twitter on Wednesday, the office of Governor Gavin Newsom confirmed the news of the program’s upcoming statewide expansion across California.

The Imagination Library began in 1988 as a free book giveaway program in Sevier County, Tennessee, where Parton grew up, sending each child living there a free book in the mail each month until they were five years old, according to Carnegie’s Medal of Philanthropy site. The idea was inspired by her father, who was illiterate, Parton says.

“My daddy couldn’t read and write, but daddy was so smart, he could just do numbers in his head,” she told NBC News in 2016.

Parton has long been a quiet philanthropist and now she’s gaining recognition for her generosity in donating her time, celebrity, and money to help others. To date, The Imagination Library has donated around $200 million in books.

In November, Parton was the winner of the 2022 Bezos Courage and Civility Award, as Forbes reported. The award grants each winner $100 million to hand to charities of their choice. Given that Jeff Bezos launched Amazon selling books, it feels fitting that Parton would win, given her long history of supporting literacy.

“Did you say $100 million dollars?” Parton can be heard hollering upon taking the stage in a video of the Bezos Courage and Civility Award ceremony. Upon accepting the award, Parton told the audience, “When people are in a position to help, you should help. I will do my best to do good things with this money.”

In July, Parton was recognized further for her charity work when she was named an awardee of the Carnegie Corporation’s Medal of Philanthropy. She also made headlines during the pandemic for donating $1 million towards research for Moderna’s COVID vaccine. And then there are Parton’s smaller-scale acts of philanthropy. According to Fortune, she has been furnishing the uniforms of several Tennessee high school marching bands for years.

There’s no rhyme or reason as to how she chooses what to support, Parton says. As she told the Associated Press after receiving her Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, “I just give from my heart. I never know what I’m going to do or why I’m gonna do it. I just see a need and if I can fill it, then I will.”

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