Thanks to Dolly Parton, Cutchogue and New Suffolk parents no longer have to tumble out of bed and work nine to five to buy books for their children.
Cutchogue New Suffolk Free Library recently joined Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program, which sends children from birth through age 5 a new book in the mail each month for free. The Dollywood Foundation, Ms. Parton’s 35-year-old nonprofit based in Sevierville, Tenn., covers program overhead and administration costs, while local partners, such as public libraries, secure funding for the cost of books and postage. Since Dolly Parton launched Imagination Library in 1995 — a tribute to her father, who could not read — more than 2.7 million children across the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and Republic of Ireland have received over 220 million free books.
To make a North Fork chapter of Ms. Parton’s program possible, the Friends of Cutchogue New Suffolk Free Library raised $7,000 last year to cover one year of costs for an estimated 250 children residing in those hamlets, according to Friends president Robin Sweeny. Going forward, she estimates the program will cost $7,000 a year, provided all age-eligible kids within the library’s coverage area are enrolled.
“When I heard about it from [library director Rosemary Winters], I thought it was an amazing thing that all kids in the district will have a full library at the end of five years,” Ms. Sweeny said. “It’s an amazing gift that Dolly Parton is partnering with people all over the country … It was probably one of the more expensive things we signed on for, but it’s still a bargain when you think of every kid, so we’re pretty excited about it.
“We don’t know if we’re going to get to 100% enrollment, but it’s such a nice thing for little kids to get to have a reading library of their very own with beautiful books, regardless of whether their families are able to buy them on their own,” she continued. “It’s such a cool thing. Who else in America is doing this?”
According to the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library website, the books it distributes — all published by Penguin Random House — are “selected by a panel of experts in early childhood and reading.” The panel meets annually to update its list of age-appropriate titles to showcase a broad range of authors and genres. It considers “child developmental needs for each age and stage as well as specific themes such as regard for diversity of people, their roles, culture and environment; promotion of self-esteem and confidence, appreciation for art and aesthetics.”
Regardless of when they sign up, every child receives a copy of “The Little Engine That Could” as their first book. Ms. Parton said that book left a lasting impression on her growing up and she was selected to write a new introduction for new editions published in 2019 to celebrate the book’s 90th anniversary in 2019.
“My memories take me way back to a little cabin in East Tennessee,” Dolly Parton wrote in a statement on her website about the milestone book. “This was not a place where dreams easily came true. Too often, there was talk about all of the things we couldn’t do rather than all of the things we could do. On many occasions, when my dream seemed far away, my Mama would tell me the story of the Little Engine to comfort and encourage me. While I listened to her, I would close my eyes and think of myself as the Little Engine and just start saying over and over again, ‘I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.’ It gave me strength, it gave me hope, and it gave me the courage to keep chasing my dreams.”
While Cutchogue and New Suffolk children read “The Little Engine That Could” and other classics, Ms. Parton’s fans can look forward to hearing her spin on rock classics. Tomorrow, the star whose career has spanned seven decades, will release her 49th solo album, “Rockstar.” Hot off her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, during which she performed “Jolene” alongside stars including Brandi Carlile, Pink and, perhaps most surprisingly, “Metal God” Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Ms. Parton will introduce the world to her spin on iconic rock tracks. The mostly-covers release features collaborations with the artists behind the classics, from Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr a new rendition of The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts on Ms. Parton’s interpretation of their 1988 hit “I Hate Myself For Loving You.” The album will also boast modern superstars, such as Miley Cryus and Lizzo, and Ms. Parton has included a duet with Mr. Halford on “Bygones,” one of nine original songs on the album, which was released as a single earlier this year.
To sign a child up for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, visit Cutchogue New Suffolk Free Library or visit cutchoguelibrary.org.