CRPL throwing a Dolly Parton birthday party to celebrate 300,000 books donated to Cedar Rapids kids

Dolly Parton's Birthday Party

Saturday Jan. 21 at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library

Dolly Parton performs at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, July 19, 2016. — Mike Roeder/Little Village

Like the hero of one of her favorite children’s books — The Little Engine That Could — Dolly Parton can. Can what? You name it. The singer-songwriter, actor, public health hero, philanthropist, theme park entrepreneur, inspiration to millions and all-around good person will turn 77 on Jan. 19.

The Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation is holding a belated birthday party for Dolly Parton on Saturday, Jan. 21, and highlighting another role she plays: champion of early reading.

The county music icon launched Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in 1995 to provide preschool kids in her home county in eastern Tennessee with free books. Five years later, the program expanded nationwide. Now the library is international, providing books to kids in Australia, Canada, Ireland and the UK.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library mails a free, age-appropriate book to kids under 5 once a month after their family registers them with a local affiliate. The first selection is always The Little Engine That Could, and the final book is always Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come! According the library’s site, it has already provided more than 197 million books to kids around the world over the last 28 years.

The Cedar Rapid Public Library Foundation joined the Imagination Library as a local affiliate in 2018, and will very soon surpass 300,000 as the number of books it’s provided to early readers in Cedar Rapids. The party on Saturday at the main branch of the Cedar Rapids Public Library downtown will celebrate the program’s accomplishments.

“The Foundation is excited to celebrate this milestone with families, program enrollment partners, and the Cedar Rapids community,” Jess Netolicky, the foundation’s development associate, said in a statement. “We are grateful to be able to get books into the homes of so many of our youngest citizens and inspire a love of reading.”

The two-hour party, which starts at 10 a.m., will feature cookies and family-friendly activities, including Dolly Parton karaoke. There will be information about how families can sign up their kids for the library. That information is also available online, along with information about how to support the foundation’s work.

The nonprofit Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation was founded in 1972 to help support the CRPL, and create and expand educational opportunities throughout the area. In addition to serving as the local affiliate of the Imagination Library, the foundation also supports the Mobile Tech Lab and other programs such as Summer Dare, which aims to help students continue learning over their summer vacations.

While cookies and karaoke are happening at CRPL on Jan. 21, in Nashville the Grand Ole Opry will be preparing for two special shows to mark Dolly’s 77th. Parton won’t actually be at Ryman Auditorium for the shows “due to her feature film schedule,” Opry Executive Producer Dan Rogers told The Tennessean, “[but] I think we can all agree Dolly deserves to be celebrated this year and every year.”