Dolly Parton's golden ticket is won by an Abington tot

A two-and-a-half-year-old girl from Abington is the lucky recipient of one of only seven magical Dolly Parton bookmarks mailed around the world.
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Aithne Hay received the bookmark in her Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library book last month as part of the programme’s 200 millionth book celebration.

The early childhood book-gifting programme has gifted 200 million books to children around the globe since its inception in 1995. And to celebrate, Dolly mailed seven special bookmarks randomly hidden in the books to seven children in five countries.

Aithne and her mum enjoyed a video chat with Dolly, as well as a personalised signed letter from the star, an autographed photo and four Dollywood Theme Park tickets.

Aithne Hay and her mum have enjoyed a video call with the country and western star.Aithne Hay and her mum have enjoyed a video call with the country and western star.
Aithne Hay and her mum have enjoyed a video call with the country and western star.

Mum Natalia accidentally threw the bookmark away; she couldn’t believe she popped a video chat with Dolly Parton in the rubbish!

“I think it’s a lovely thing Dolly is doing to get kids to read really young,” she said. “It sets a pattern for life.

“My girls love their Imagination Library books. They enjoy picking out books for story time and reading along with me.”

The Dollywood Foundation will also donate £2,000 on behalf of Aithne to their Local Imagination Library Partner – The Old School House in Abington – as a thank you to who Dolly calls the true heroes of her programme.

Nicci Hill, centre development manager at the venue, said: “It’s hard to put into words how special it is to have a bookmark recipient here.

“We serve 10 villages in a remote rural area with no access to a local library. For some, they would have to drive 20 miles away to reach a library or bookstore, so getting these books right to their doors is important.

“The £2000 will help so much in getting more books out to families.”

The Hays are incredibly thankful for their local partner. Nicci is the one who signed them up in January. Little did they know, nine months later, they would get such a special surprise from a global icon.

Inspired by her father’s inability to read and write, Dolly started the Imagination Library in 1995 to serve the children of her hometown in Sevier County, Tennessee.

Today, her programme spans five countries and gifts over 2.6 million free books each month to children around the world – one book is mailed every second!

There is never a charge to families who participate in the programme and it is open to all children under the age of five in areas with operating programmes.

“I know there are children in communities around the world with big dreams and the seeds of these dreams are often found in books,” said Dolly. “It’s been one of my greatest gifts in life to help instill a love of reading through my Imagination Library.

“Reaching 200 million books worldwide is a major milestone that I’m so very proud of, and I want to thank all of our local programme partners, funders and supporters from the bottom of my heart. But we’re just getting warmed up, we have so much more to do! Together, we can inspire even more children to dream and be more.”