Dolly Parton tells stories of her humble upbringing

The singer is releasing an album for children today.

ByABC News
October 13, 2017, 9:10 AM

— -- Growing up in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, Dolly Parton was one of 12 children. Her family had next to nothing, but Parton had her dreams. Taking the lessons she learned in church from her grandfather, a preacher, like "Jesus loves me" and "through God all things are possible," she says she always believed her dreams of becoming a singer and songwriter would come true.

Now Parton wants to pass on some of the wisdom she's learned to children. She's released her first children's album, "I Believe in You," which hits stores today.

It's a collection of 13 songs written by Parton she hopes will inspire, encourage and emphasize the importance of having a positive attitude.

"In this day and time we really need some uplifting messages," Parton told ABC News. "I tried to create building tools to make children better people, but I really think it speaks to the grownups as well."

With a treasure trove of hit songs she's penned including "9 to 5," "Jolene" and "I Will Always Love You," Parton is regarded as one of the most prolific songwriters of all time. Not surprising, the songs on "I Believe in You," almost entirely new, tap into issues that face our world today. "Chemo Hero" and "Brave Little Soldier" are anthems for those battling cancer and other diseases. "Making Fun Ain't Funny" addresses bullying.

"We need to accept people for who they are and not make fun," Parton said. "How would you feel if it was you that people were laughing at?"

This year marks a milestone in Parton's career. It's the 50th anniversary of the release of her first album, "Hello, I'm Dolly." Since then, Parton has sold 100 million records, has scored more No. 1 hits than any other female country artist and even has her own amusement park, Dollywood.

It's a long way from the little girl who says she used to pray to God to let her be successful so she would have enough to share and enough to spare.

Parton kept her promise. In addition to her career on stage and screen, Parton is known for her philanthropic spirit. In 2016, Parton gave each family who lost its home in the wildfires that ravaged through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg $10,000. Earlier this year, she created the Mountain Tough organization, which will provide an additional $3 million to the victims.

But it's her Imagination Library that holds a special place in her heart. Founded by Parton in 1995, the Imagination Library is a book-gifting organization that has donated over 100 million books to children around the world.

"My own dad could not read or write, and he seemed so crippled by that, but Daddy was so smart. I felt I wanted to do something to honor my dad," Parton says. "I let him be involved in the Imagination Library in its early days. He loved hearing the kids call me 'The Book Lady.'"

All of the proceeds from "I Believe in You" will go to the Imagination Library, the singer's nonprofit organization that promotes childhood literacy. In fact, the title song is based off Parton's first and favorite book as a child, "The Little Engine That Could." It's also the first book the Imagination Library gives out.

"We weren't allowed to bring books home from school because we had so many little kids in the house. They would just chew them up, tear them up, pee on them, whatever," Parton said. "So mama just read the Bible. Nobody touched the Bible. She used to tell us all of the stories from the bible and make them beautiful like Joseph and the coat of many colors. She read that to me when she was making my little coat of many colors to make me proud of it."

Parton says she wakes up with new dreams every day. She says she hopes see her life as a musical and a feature film. She'd also like to have her own merchandise company of clothes, makeup and cosmetics. Parton says she'd like to do a tour of "I Believe in You" in school auditoriums and churches to perform for parents and children.

"I wish I was half the age I am now so I would have more time to do these things," Parton said.

A day after graduating high school, Parton boarded a Greyhound for Nashville with her guitar and never looked back. Like “The Little Engine That Could” she read as a child, Parton knew there was an engine inside of her that said she could do anything if she didn't give up.

Knowing what she knows now, what would Parton say to her 18-year-old self?

"I would say buckle and brace up because you're going to be working your little country butt off. It's going to be a journey, but you can enjoy it," Parton said. "I've always said that if you want dreams to come true you've got to put feet, legs and wings on them."