August 05, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

Dolly Parton didn’t have many books growing up poor in Tennessee’s Sevier County, so she has since dedicated herself to making sure children don’t go without. In 1995, she founded the Imagination Library, an organization that mails books to young readers monthly. At first it was limited to Sevier residents, but the program has exploded in the past decade. As of this month it’s hit the benchmark of 700,000 children in 1,500 communities, including some in Canada and the U.K. ”The first book that we send — and everybody gets it — is The Little Engine That Could,” says David Dotson, Dollywood Foundation president. ”And that’s pretty much the metaphor of the entire Imagination Library: ‘I think I can.”’

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