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Book selector for Dolly's Imagination Library describes the process

"We read every single book aloud to each other so that we can hear how it sounds as if we were the child listening to the cadence, rhyme or rhythm," Watson said.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Jinx Watson, a retired Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee, is part of the book selection committee for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. 

"Once a year, they put us in a room with 300 books and give us two and a half days. We do our selection. We read every single book aloud to each other so that we can hear how it sounds as if we were the child listening to the cadence, rhyme, or rhythm. It's a pretty powerful experience," Watson said, adding that for the first time, the committee met virtually due to the pandemic. 

Watson taught children's literature to aspiring librarians before joining Dolly's team and said they consider everything from topic to language, themes, and pictures when selecting books for the reading list.

 "We look at artistic pictures, not cutesy pictures, but we look at real art. We look at watercolors, we look at collages, we look at cartoons, we look at fabric and textiles that people have used to illustrate their books. We want a variety of art styles," Watson said. 

One of the hardest parts of the process is deciding whether or not to replace a book on the list with another. Watson said in all her career, the Imagination Library is the best reading program she's worked with. 

"There's no toy that does what a good picture book does," Watson said.