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Why Dolly Parton is bringing children's books to Washington state

Dolly Parton performs at an event celebrating the Imagination Library of Washington, with a copy of her book, Coat of Many Colors, in the background.
Jeanie Lindsay
NW News Network
Dolly Parton performs at an event celebrating the Imagination Library of Washington Aug. 15, 2023. The country music star and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer didn't perform her biggest hits, but instead shared songs with a personal connection to the program that provides free books for children.

Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" Tuesday was a stop at Tacoma's Pantages Theater, where she celebrated the statewide expansion of her Imagination Library program.

Imagination Library provides free, age appropriate books every month to children 5 and under across the United States. Washington's program started just last year, and is now available to families in all counties.

Watch: Dolly Parton visits Tacoma

The country music legend founded the program in 1995, inspired by her family's experiences growing up in poverty in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. Back in the day, Parton said many children had to work the fields instead of going to school — including her father.

"So, my dad couldn't read and write," she said. "And that troubled him and he was embarrassed by that."

Though Parton is widely considered one of the most successful, iconic country music stars in the world, she said her father was most proud of her work with the Imagination Library program. She hopes that literacy across the U.S. will improve if kids learn the joy of reading as early as possible.

More than 65,000 children in Washington are already enrolled.

In typical Dolly fashion, she also shared some words of wisdom with the crowd during a sweeping interview with state schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal. She emphasized the importance of kindness in the current divisive political climate of today, and encouraged people to listen more and have more compassion.

"Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, we're still human beings," she said. "We're not all supposed to be alike. Remember what they say about variety being the spice of life? But that doesn't mean we can't be good neighbors, we can't be good people."

Parton also teased her new rock album, "Rockstar," slated to release in November.

Sami West