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Marley Dias on Inspiring Activism, Diversifying Children's Literature, and Her Latest Reads

By Lara Deloza
 | May 31, 2018

Marley DiasMarley Dias made headlines as a sixth grader when she initiated the #1000BlackGirlBooks project to collect and donate 1,000 titles that featured black girls as the central character. Marley's drive has since yielded more than 11,000. Her first book, Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!, was published by Scholastic the same month she turned 13.

Why was it so important to you to bring awareness to a lack of diversity in children’s literature?

“Bringing awareness to the lack of diversity in children’s literature is important to me because there were so many students who have never and will never see themselves reflected in literature assigned in schools. I want to stop the intentional exclusion of some people’s stories, and I want every child to have a place in literature where they can see themselves and learn about the experiences of others.”

Do you consider yourself a changemaker, and if so, why?

“I consider myself a changemaker because I am working toward changing the systems in schools so that students are able to see diverse main characters. I have been able to achieve this on a global scale and I will continue until every student can see themselves and diverse people as the main characters.”

How does your book encourage tweens and teens to become changemakers?

“My book tells my story and shows my path. I started when I was 10 years old. I am now 13 years old. If I can do it then anyone can. Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! encourages tweens and teens to become changemakers by giving real specific tips for them to make a change in their communities. Instead of just saying work hard or believe in yourself, this book puts all of that information into clear and achievable steps.”

What can their adult teachers learn from reading it?

“Teachers, like parents, can learn that they must listen to kids voices and support kids’ actions so that they can succeed. Teachers can learn that by offering diverse books they are reducing ignorance as well as helping children become more confident. Being informed and being more confident will help children succeed in and out of the classroom.”

You are often referred to as an advocate for literacy. What’s next for you in that area?

“I believe that literacy is important because it gives you the tools to express yourself and share your ideas. I want parents and kids to know that reading is fun; it is not just about doing well in school. It’s about being a thoughtful person who positively contributes to the world. To make sure that this idea grows, I am starting the Black Girl Book Club. The book clubs can happen in schools as well as in community spaces. I want kids—and adults—to get together and talk about books and share ideas.”

How does literacy play into your social justice campaign for racial harmony?

“I don’t usually define my work in terms of racial harmony. To me, my work is really about understanding. I want to make sure that people are taking the time to learn about others. I also want people to imagine black girls as leaders and accept that we can be and are the main characters of our lives. I know that if this understanding happens, racial harmony may be the outcome, but racial harmony is not the first thing I think about when I think about my work. Achieving equity and opening spaces for black girls and others to learn are the core reasons for my campaign.

Also, sometimes I think when we say harmony it can make people feel like they are being forced to get along. My work is about education and acceptance. I want people to develop the patience and tolerance to know that there are other ways of being. They may not agree with those ways but they still need to make and hold space for other thoughts, ideas, and possibilities.”

What are three books you’re super excited about right now (and why)?

“The books I’m super excited about are Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi because it shows the world that in fantasy books, black people don't have to die first, or be the slapstick character, but can be leaders. Next, I’m excited about An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green. It hasn’t come out yet, but Hank Green is my favorite YouTuber and now he has books, just like his brother, John Green. Last, I’m excited about Rebound by Kwame Alexander because he is one of my favorite authors telling stories about black boys.”

Marley Dias will deliver the opening keynote at Children’s Literature Day at the ILA 2018 Conference, July 20–23, in Austin, TX. Learn more and register here.

Lara Deloza is the senior communications manager at ILA.

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