Dolly Parton talks about her new children’s book — and standing up to bullies : NPR
Courtesy of Dolly Parton
It’s really hard to do that in the music business. But if you continue to be yourself, and practice, and find good friends, you will do it.
That’s what a certain canine musician named Billy The Kid used to tell you. You can read about his ruff beginning in the new children’s book, Billy The Kid Makes It Big.
His story is written by someone who knows a thing or two about maintaining a music career: the one and only Dolly Parton.
The music star and writer talks to NPR’s Melissa Block about writing for children, fighting bullies, and why her children’s book program has meant so much to her father.
This has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
About Billy and why he inspired her to write the book
Billy belongs to my manager, Danny Nozell. And when Danny first brought it into the studio, I just loved it. It’s a small thing. And I just supported him. And I said I have to be his extra mum, or he has to be my goddog.
[The book] it’s about confidence, about standing up to bullies. So it’s really got a lot of meaningful things, I think, for kids from four to seven. It’s a story about him coming to Nashville, trying to make it in business and being discouraged by some others and feeling sad. And finally he met some friends who gave him confidence.
On being bullied as a child
I have a song and a book called, Coat of Many Colors. My mother had made me a small coat with rags, because she didn’t have enough of the same material to make me a coat and it was winter time. So, while she made that coat she told me the story about Joseph in the Bible. And boy, I thought I really looked like Joseph, and I was so proud of it, and I wore it to school. And the children laughed and said that they were only rags, and I did not look like Joseph, and that we were poor and all that. I remember crying so much. And children always remember things like this, your first deep hurt.
So that followed me and years later, I didn’t really know it was like that out there, I wrote a song about it. So since then, I’ve written a lot of songs that I know are things that kids deal with, whether it’s bullying, or just being hurt, or not having confidence, and being able to stay strong and believe in who are you
On staying true to yourself
I believe we should all have the chance to be exactly who we are. And I even wrote a song [Be That] as for whatever, so be it. Whatever you do, do it. Anything else is just an act. You cannot be anything different than you are. And when you try, it’s just fake, and you’ll never be complete as a human being.
On her father does not learn to read or write
My father did not have a chance to read or write. And that bothered him. And it bothered me that it bothered him. So, I got this idea to start the [Imagination Library] a program where we give books to children from birth, once a month, until they start school. We were just thinking about our home county, and it grew so fast. And then she went across Tennessee. And then they went to Canada. And now they are all over the world.
My father was very proud of this. He lived long enough to see her doing really well. He just told me he was very proud of me. And that felt like I was doing something special. I was proud that he was about to be a part of something big. And he could feel better about himself.
On she still writes songs, and where she gets her inspiration
I always draw things from my childhood. I incorporated a lot of things from my life and even updated things. I have always said that my life is in my songs. Even if not all of them are true experiences, some of the feelings and some of the lines are always mine.
I can be in the kitchen cooking, and suddenly, I’ll get an idea for a song. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, I wake up and I think, “Why am I awake?” And I think, “Well, I guess because I need to say something.” So, I get up and go find a pen and some paper. I usually try to keep a notepad next to my bed, because I often dream of singing songs. I wrote a lot with lipstick and eyebrow pencil!