February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Full Steam Ahead for Sixth Grader Gathering Books with Black Girl Protagonists

(Updated March 15, 2016)

Photo: Andrea Cipriani Mecchi

Photo: Andrea Cipriani Mecchi

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.

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.” 

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.

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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  1. I admire Marley Dias for pursuing such a great endeavor of collecting books with black female protagonists. Like Marley, I wasn’t exposed to books written by black authors or books featuring black subjects. As an Educator and Bibliophile, I’m committed to collecting children’s books that not only feature interesting black female protagonists but other chapter and picture books that feature African American, Native American, Asian American, Latino, Australian Aboriginal, African, Caribbean, and Black British characters.

    I would like to recommend Australian Aboriginal authors Sally Morgan, Bronwyn Bancroft, Ezekiel Kwaymullina, and Anita Heiss, Black British author Atinuke, and African American authors Camille Yarbrough, Ann Petry and Lucille Clifton. These authors’ books present authentic black female characters and their life experiences.

  2. Pamela Badila says:

    I am very pleased by the initiative taken by this Yong girl. She inspires others to make a stand, individually, to resolve what is outstanding in their institutionalized education. Progress is gradual, but need not be slow. The search for a viable connection is not without challenges, yet we see how to surmount them. Bravo! And note the family that supports realizes the greatest of triumphs!

  3. With so many disturbing studies revealing the media’s effect on young girls’ self esteem, it is refreshing to see such a bright young woman embracing who she is and being proud of it!


    I am great grandmother t an eleven year old black girl. I am always searching for reading material that will pique her interest. The supply seems grossly limited! I praise Marley Dias for her initiative in seeking what she wishes to rear. SO COMMENDABLE FOR HER AGE!

  5. Love this little girl:)

  6. Sam Jacobs says:

    Marley Dias, you are an inspiration to all people.

  7. I heard an interview with Ms. Diaz on the radio today and was blown away by her poise, intelligence and insights. At first I was thinking, “What an impressive young lady.” But, I quickly realized that she is an impressive person regardless of age. I’m a 52 year-old white male and I don’t hold a candle to her.

    Marley – I wish you all the best and hope you continue to find things that you enjoy and are passionate about!

  8. Sabrina Morris says:

    How positive in our world’s current state of affairs. What is wrong with an undoubtedly bright little girl trying to find her reflection in the books that she reads. This is great… kudos to Marley for taking a stand and doing something proactive. I’m proud of her. I’m raising an African American daughter in the very white state of Minnesota. Through the years, I’ve combed the aisles of bookstores, book fairs and the like and recognize many of the books that Marley has collected. This is positive all around!

  9. I love her inspirational books about young black girls .She personally inspired me when I read about her.

  10. Cynthia Mack says:

    Are you looking for book donations? I have a number of great books featuring African American protagonists.