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It can be tempting to focus on what we don’t have, but in her new children’s book, Coat of Many Colors (Grosset & Dunlap), country music legend Dolly Parton reminds us to be grateful for everything we do have, no matter how modest it may seem.
Using lyrics from her beloved 1971 song, which was inspired by Parton’s rural upbringing in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the picture book tells the story of a young girl who needs a warm winter coat. Since they have no money, the girl’s mother sews some rags together to make a coat, “sewin’ every piece with love.” The girl “proudly” wears the coat to school, where her classmates laugh at her for being poor. But Parton’s timeless message comes through at the end, as the girl explains to her classmates that her coat was made with love “in every stitch.”
“The story of the coat is a true story, and the hurt I felt was real and it was deep,” Parton shares with Yoga Journal. “Years later, with the benefit of time and distance, the meaning of that hurtful experience began to become clear to me, and I am so blessed that my experience and the lessons I learned have been healing to so many and in so many ways. Some see the song as a message to not bully people or make fun of them because they are different. Others have told me the song speaks to a mother’s love and the strength of a family bond. And still others see the importance of being proud of who you are rather than proud of what you might own. Maybe the message of the song is simply what you need that message to be for you.”
Coat of Many Colors—featuring all-new illustrations by Brooke Boynton Hughes and “Making Fun Ain’t Funny,” a downloadable exclusive original song by Parton—is the latest project in Parton’s mission to support childhood literacy. In 1988, she began the Dollywood Foundation to inspire children in her home community to dream more, learn more, care more, and be more. The Foundation’s signature program is the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which works with local sponsors to give every preschool child a book each month from the time he or she is born until the child reaches kindergarten.
“It was an easy decision to take the lyrics and turn it into a children’s book, and it is beautifully illustrated by Brooke,” Parton says. “Next year, we are going to put it into the Imagination Library, so over 200,00 kids will receive the book. With the way the Imagination Library is growing, in just a few years over 1 million children will have their own copy of Coat of Many Colors. Will that change the world? Probably not, but I sure hope that my experience will be helpful to as many children as possible no matter where in this big, wide world they may live.”
You can take your own Thanksgiving lesson from Coat of Many Colors; for us, it illustrates the power of a mother’s love and the importance of gratitude, and offers a much-needed reminder that the holidays should be about so much more than material things. As Parton puts it so simply and beautifully in her song: “Although we had no money, I was rich as I could be/in my coat of many colors/my mama made for me.”
Stay tuned for NBC’s upcoming special, Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love, a sequel to last year’s TV movie, Coat of Many Colors.