From #1000BlackGirlBooks to a Movement: Marley Dias's Journey
Source: VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

Marley Dias Speaks: The Power of Representation in Children's Literature


Dec. 8 2023, Published 9:32 a.m. ET

Marley Dias is a young activist promoting the inclusion of more girls as the main characters in children's books. What started as a simple initiative to collect 1,000 books has turned out to be a movement that has earned her different awards and recognition. Her book drive is helping to promote diversity in children's literature in many ways.

Promoting Diversity Through the #1000blackgirlbooks Campaign

In one of the Tweets on Marley Dias's timeline, she says that frustration is a breeding group for innovative ideas. This statement shows why she started the #1000blackgirlbooks movement. After conducting her research, she found that there were few books with black girls as lead characters. Her frustration with the lack of diversity in children's books motivated her to find a lasting solution. First, she thought of collecting, reading, and sharing as many books with black lead characters as possible. Her second choice was to find black children's authors and request them to write more children's stories with black female protagonists.

Option three was to collect and donate books with girls of color as the main characters, and that's what she went for. While starting the campaign to collect children's books in middle school, Dias admits that she didn't imagine it would become a movement. However, her use of social media to spread the word about the campaign got more people interested, and in just a few months, she had surpassed her target of 1,000 books. The #1000blackgirlbooks movement, in collaboration with her mother's GrassROOTS Foundation, has collected and distributed over 13,000 books worldwide.

Ways Representation in Children is Helping to Break Stereotypes

At Marley Dias's dinner table during her fifth-grade graduation, she told her mum that the books she read were about white boys and their dogs. An interesting fact about children is that whenever they're reading a storybook, they'll put themselves in the shoes of the characters they relate to. And so, when young girls of color are presented with stories of stereotypical success of white and black girls, they lose the motivation to read. Marley knew about this from her experiences with reading about white boys, motivating her to start the #1000blackgirlbooks campaign.

In addition to distributing books, the stories shared on her Netflix show have also played a role in breaking the stereotype about the black child. While on the show, one of her guests, Lupita Nyong'o, pointed out that her book "Sulwe" was based on her childhood experience of feeling ugly and being bullied because of her skin color. Her story of Sulwe is meant to let children with dark skin tones know that they're beautiful just the way they are.

Besides breaking stereotypes, Dias believes the show will help drive meaningful conversations between parents and their kids on different topics. She also admits that "Bookmarks" will be beneficial to children who don't find reading books enjoyable.

Championing for Children's Books With More Female Lead Characters

Marley has been advocating for representation in children's literature ever since she noticed that she didn't resonate with the characters in the books she read. Her cause for collecting and distributing books with stories of young female girls as the main characters is helping uplift children of color. She's also helping to motivate the culture of reading by bringing guest celebrities to her show on Netflix to discuss books around themes like justice, identity, and respect.

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