(Updated March 15, 2016)
Marley Dias way overshot her goal of collecting 1,000 books featuring black girls as the main characters. The latest count is 4,000, of which 500 are unique titles, and she shows no sign of slowing down.
Marley is planning to donate the surplus to The Lee School in Philadelphia, Speedway Academies in Newark, NJ, and St.Cloud Elementary School in West Orange, NJ. The latter is Marley’s former elementary school, where her frustration with available reading material began last year.
Marley is considering starting a “global book club,” but no definite plans have been made.
Eleven-year-old Marley Dias grew tired of reading assigned books “about white boys and dogs,” she says.
Since her fifth grade teacher at St. Cloud Elementary School in West Orange, New Jersey, never asked her what she might prefer to read, Dias says, she decided to take some action. Her goal? To collect 1,000 books in which black girls are the main characters. Her broader mission? To draw attention to the fact that all children need to see characters they can connect with in children’s literature.
“It doesn’t matter what age you are, you still need a character you can connect with,” she says. “[Then] you remember the lessons you learn.”
Dias launched the drive last month and hopes to get 1,000 books by February 1. Many individuals have offered donations and title suggestions; Scholastic Books and the R&B singers Kindred the Family Soul have also offered support, according to a release, and Jamaican reggae artist Capleton has reached out, Dias says. She’s also had help from the GrassROOTS Community Foundation, a public health and social action group where her mom, Janice Johnson Dias, is president.
Shout-outs are also coming from the librarian and writing community. Book Riot associate editor and author Kelly Jensen took to Twitter over the last week as well, raising more than $2,500 for books using the hashtag #1000BlackGirlsBooks.
“If you missed it last night: so far we’ve sent over 140 unique black girl titles. Which is amazing,” read one tweet.
— LB Kids (@lbkids) January 27, 2016
Dias had assembled more than 500 books by early this week. She and her mother plan to travel with the books to the Parish of St. Mary, a community located on the northeast coast of Jamaica, where her mother grew up. They plan to distribute them to a primary school and the local library at a book festival on February 13th. “We’re going to have games, give away books, and have a fun event,” says Dias, “because reading should never feel [like] a chore.”
— ABRAMS Kids (@abramskids) January 28, 2016
Now a sixth grader at Thomas A. Edison Middle School in West Orange, this nascent writer of her own dives into books from Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Echo (Scholastic, 2015) to anything by Laurie Halse Anderson.
Dias says that her larger point is that shouldn’t be difficult to find books that reflect the reader. “Diversity is [more than] just having one book where a black character is a slave,” she says.
“Kids do love diversity,” she adds. “You just have to try and figure out what they like.”
Donations can be made by reaching out to GrassROOTS directly.