“Don’t judge me by the cover, cos I’m a real good book”, Dolly once quipped. But in the last 25 years she’s become more than just that; now synonymous the world over with literature and literacy.
The Imagination Library that Dolly started in 1995 - which offered every child in her home county a book a month for free until the age of five - has now spread all over the US and into Canada, Ireland and the UK.
In 2018, Dolly celebrated the delivery of the 100-millionth book since the Imagination Library began, and it currently sends out about 1.3 million books to children every month, inspiring children around the world to read.
“My daddy just loved it when all the little kids would call me ‘The Book Lady’. That meant more to him than the fact that I had become a star and worked my butt off, “ she once joked.
We love Dolly, we love books, and we also know Dolly loves books too. So, we’re bringing all that love together in this list to the The Best Dolly Parton Books, as chosen by Holler.
No one knows Dolly better than Dolly, and all the heartbreak and hilarity is here as she takes a trip down memory lane and unpacks a whopping great 175 of her most treasured songs. Packed full of never before seen photos, lyrics and Dolly memorabilia, Songteller is the ultimate companion for Dolly fans. Just like her songs, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
90-odd pages of pocket-sized pearls of wisdom. From old classics like “If you see someone without a smile, give them yours” and “Sometimes my mouth is a little too big and a little too open and sounds too much like a sailor”, to my own personal favourite, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose”. Dolly has enough inspirational quotes to cover a whole shoreline of driftwood.
Children’s books often sum up in a few pages what it takes shelves of adult books to cover - so is the case with this illustrated little gem. Part of a series that delightfully tells the story of such luminaries as Charles Darwin, Prince, Bob Dylan and Greta Thunberg, each of whom began life as a child with a dream.
We follow Dolly (and a butterfly) from her dreams on the front porch in the mountains of Tennessee to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, her own theme park and beyond. Whether you’re 5 or 85, this lovely book will make you feel like a kid again, and the illustrations by Daria Solak are so sweet you’ll want to frame them.
For Dolly’s first foray into fiction, she teamed up with one of the best known and biggest selling writers of all time, James Patterson.
A real page turner that follows a young star on the rise, who moves to Nashville with little more than a suitcase full of dreams. But, it turns out she’s not just running toward her future, she’s running from her past. Will it catch up with her? What do you think?!
Along the way we meet Ruthanna, a country superstar who’s had more hits than you’ve had hot dinners, won all the awards and accolades, and now just wants to be left alone, thank you. Does she get to live her life of solitude and enjoy her retirement? Does she heck!! Lives intertwine and the past comes a knockin’ - you won’t be able to put this book down.
Originally serialised in the No Depression quarterly, Sarah Smarsh’s book is an affectionate and indispensable deep dive into the cultural importance of Dolly as a working-class woman in conservative America, making music within a genre that’s always pitted against them.
The book that takes Dolly out of the Appalachian Mountains and into academia, Leigh Edwards dives deeper into Dolly than anyone has ever dared to before as she unpacks the gender subversion at play in her roles as a musician, actor, author, philanthropist and entrepreneur.
Highbrow chapter titles include ‘Hungry Again: Reclaiming Country Authority Narratives’ and ‘Backwoods Barbie: Dolly Parton’s Gender Performance’.
Let’s all try to read the book, then meet back in a couple of years when we’ve finished it to discuss it.
Ok, yes, it’s another children’s book. I promise we also have heftier tomes on the shelves here at Holler, but this is so important we had to include it.
The picture book opens the conversation on mental health at an early age in a fun and accessible way - through the simple story and colourful pictures, kids are encouraged to talk about and understand their feelings, which naturally helps them respect the feelings of others. I Am A Rainbow really should be in every school library.
It’s an unfair world and sadly not everyone gets to meet Dolly Parton, but plenty of people have and you better believe they’ll tell anyone about it at the drop of a hat. Thankfully for those of us who haven’t yet had the honor, this collection of interviews, memories and encounters is the next best thing.
Covering five decades of her career, we get it all here; Dolly being reflective, thoughtful, cheeky, honest and of course funny and utterly professional. She knows exactly what we want and when we want it. Having all the interviews in one book, you can see how she adapts her tone depending on if she’s talking to Rolling Stone, Interview or Cosmo, all the while staying 100% herself.
Always quick with a quotable epithet, Dolly sometimes seems to forget that we’ve usually heard her favourites more than a few times already. Luckily, this compendium of magazine interviews collects together the wisest of her own words and some of the best writing there’s ever been about Dolly Parton.
From Chet Flippo in Rolling Stone to Linda Ray for No Depression, Not Dumb, Not Blonde proves that at least the first part of that title is definitely true. Plus, the amazing Raissa Pardini designed the cover, so once you’ve read it you can display it in your Dolly shrine.
Right, maybe we do only read children’s books, what of it? Simple premise here, one of Dolly’s best loved and most touching songs brought to life and beautifully illustrated.What’s not to like? Winter’s coming and little Dolly needs a coat, but there’s no money to buy one. Mama Parton has just the solution, but what will those meanie head kids at school think of it?
Dolly Parton's first novel, Run, Rose Run, is out on March 7 via Cornerstone
For more on Dolly Parton, see below: