There’s no way to know where a good book may take you — especially for the holidays. 

Just ask actress, mathematician and author Danica McKellar, best known as young Winnie Cooper in the 1988-1993 coming-of-age comedy-drama “The Wonder Years”.

One of McKellar’s children’s books led her all the way to Dollywood where she recently completed “Christmas at Dollywood” opposite her hero, Dolly Parton. The TV movie airs at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8 on the Hallmark Channel and marks McKellar’s 12th starring role in a Hallmark movie. 

“A few years ago, one of my children’s books, ‘Goodnight, Numbers’, became part of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. I was so incredibly honored to be part of it and still have the letter from Dolly. I framed it,” McKellar, 44, said.

“About a year ago or so I had just come back from Washington, D.C., as part of the celebration at the Library of Congress for the Imagination Library having donated over 100 million copies. I had lunch with a programming executive who told me they had been shooting on some locations, and she asked me if I had any ideas for a Hallmark Christmas movie.

“I said, ‘How about ‘Christmas at Dollywood’ ”? 

Hallmark not only liked the idea but also told the actress to find the writer, thus she serves as one of the movie’s executive producers. 

The Dolly Experience

McKellar said that meeting and working with Parton “was amazing, a dream come true. She fulfilled every promise and more. She was not only gracious and lively and kind, she spread joy in every room. She’s like a Hallmark Channel movie and makes you feel warm, happy and fuzzy inside —what I aspire to be myself. That’s why I write math books — to make people feel good and happy. I make Hallmark movies to make people feel good and focus on family and tradition.”

The plot of the movie centers on Rachel Lewis, a single mom and award-winning Broadway producer with family roots in Appalachia. When a friend calls from Tennessee to tell her about an opportunity to produce a 20th-anniversary show for the Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival at Dollywood, she heads south with daughter Amy in tow. 

Rachel discovers she’ll be working with Dollywood entertainment director Luke Hakman, who initially sees the holiday show as a stepping stone to a position for himself as Dollywood’s general manager. While the bedtime stories Rachel tells Amy inspire her vision, Luke has some other ideas about what the show should be.

While the movie was filmed primarily in Vancouver, several days were shot at Dollywood, which McKellar had never visited.

“I always wanted to go, but it is not that easy to get to from Los Angeles. … The day after we finished shooting, they opened the park, and my mom, my son and I got to do the park. I loved Wildwood Grove and the Mockingbird ride. My son loved everything,” she said.

McKellar’s mother, Mahaila, and 9-year-old son, Draco, have made cameos in almost all of her Hallmark movies. This time they appear near the beginning, her son shown blowing bubbles that look like candy canes and her mom as a vendor. 

Asked what makes the Hallmark Channel movies so attractive, she answered, “I really think in our culture today there is so much that is disturbing and upsetting and shows the worst side of humans, and Hallmark movies remind us who we can be and, especially, the Christmas movies encourage us.” 

Inspiration for an author

Earlier this year, McKellar narrated the documentary “The Library That Dolly Built”, which has yet to be released. She has penned four children’s books: “Goodnight, Numbers,” “Ten Magic Butterflies, “Bathtime Mathtime” and “Bathtime Mathtime Shapes”; and one for elementary students, “Do Not Open This Math Book.”

She has written four math books aimed at junior high and high school girls: “Math Doesn't Suck,” “Kiss My Math,” “Hot X: Algebra Exposed” and “Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape.” 

McKellar found math a challenge in her early schooldays, recalling, “I was not always great at it, but in middle school I got a teacher who understood it was presentation of math that made a difference. That was the genesis of my math book: how do you make this really fun and a subject that kids care about? So, I’ve been writing math books over 10 years.”

Since her “Wonder Years” years, she has co-starred in the TV series, “The West Wing” and “Inspector Mom” and provides the voices for Miss Martian in the animated superhero TV series “Young Justice” and Judy Jetson on “The Jetsons.”

Next on her Hallmark plate McKellar will see where the clues will lead her as she said she would be making “more of the ‘Matchmaker Mystery’ series” where she portrays a professional matchmaker and reality TV host, whose father, played by Bruce Boxleitner, is a detective.


“Christmas at Dollywood” airs at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8, on the Hallmark Channel and stars Danica McKellar (“The Wonder Years”), Niall Matter (“Eureka”) and Dolly Parton, who plays herself. Part of the TV movie was filmed at Dollywood.


Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library launched in a single Tennessee county in 1996 and today operates in all 50 states and four countries. It provides free, age-appropriate books to children from birth to age 5. In February 2018, the Imagination Library delivered its 100 millionth free book.

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