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Singer Dolly Parton says growing up in a big family gave her the maternal instincts needed to be generous with kids, but she’s never wanted her own.

Photo: Courtesy of Sony Music Canada

Everybody always calls me the “Dolly Mama.” I just love kids. I think God has his plans, and I’ve always said that it wasn’t meant for me to have kids so that everybody’s kids could be mine.

If I had real kids of my own, I probably would have been a little more selfish and protective. I’d have saved too much of myself and my money for them. But now, I can be a little more generous and share a little more with all children.

I think being motherly just comes from being brought up in a big family. There are 12 of us, and eight children who are younger than me in my family. We had to take care of one another, so I developed that motherly instinct. Five of my younger brothers and sisters came to live with me and my husband when we first got married—they just wanted to live with us. When they started having kids, they were like our grandkids in a way.

Different ones went back and forth. We still had parents, but they wanted to be in Nashville instead of up in the mountains. I wanted to have them because I missed them all, and my husband was very open to that. Whatever I wanted to do was always fine with him. I’m sure he loved them because he loved me, and he knew that I loved having them.

I’ve been writing songs all my life, children’s songs included. After the success of Coat of Many Colors, I thought this was the perfect time to release a children’s album. I think there’s a great message in Coat of Many Colors. It talks about children making fun of other children. I even wrote a song for the album called “Making Fun Ain’t Funny,” which addresses the bullying problem. A lot of times, children are cruel and don’t realize that they are because they’ve never been taught those lessons.

   Fred PennerIn 1996, Parton started the Imagination Library to provide free books for children. The charity expanded to Canada in 2015.

My father was a very intelligent man, but he felt that he wouldn’t be able to learn to read as an adult. He was embarrassed to pick up a book and try to learn to read in front of his own children. He was so smart in a lot of ways. I got a lot of my business sense from my daddy.

I wanted to do something in honour of him because he was so precious and such a good daddy. He helped me get the Imagination Library off the ground. He got to live long enough to see it do well and hear the kids call me “The Book Lady.” Knowing that he helped me healed his soul, I think, in that matter.

Dolly Parton’s children’s album, I Believe In You, is out now. More information about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library can be found at ca.imaginationlibrary.com.

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