Dolly Parton's passion isn't just music...it's also literacy

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Dolly Parton's mission to end illiteracy 01:09

Story highlights

  • Dolly Parton started the Imagination Library in 1995
  • Imagination Library provides free books to preschool-aged children
  • Charity has distributed almost 85 million books

(CNN)Dolly Parton is the most award-winning female country singer of all time. But music isn't her only passion. She's also an advocate for literacy.

Growing up in rural Tennessee, the singer recalls many families not sending their children to school. "Kids had to go to the fields and work to help support all of these big families."
Parton's father was illiterate. "My own father didn't get a chance to go to school," she says. "He couldn't read and write, and that hindered him a great deal because he was so smart. It really bothered him a lot."
In 1995, Parton started the Imagination Library in honor of her father. The charity sends free books every month to preschool-aged children.
So far, Imagination Library has distributed almost 85 million books in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
"If you can read, you can self-educate," Parton says.
The U.S. Department of Education says 32 million American adults are illiterate. It's a staggering statistic that's motivating Dolly Parton to light the passions of young learners around the globe and keep the faith with her father who died in 2000.
"My dad was so proud when the kids would get the books. He just was prouder of that than probably my great success in show business."