At the ripe old age of 11, Marley Dias—a New Jersey girl originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—realized something extraordinary about the books she was assigned to read for school. Far too many of them, she noticed, featured white male protagonists.
Dismayed by the lack of diversity in children’s fiction, Dias decided to do something about it. She’s started a project to collect 1,000 children’s books, with only one rule: The books all have to feature black girls like her.
Pointing specifically to books like Where the Red Fern Grows and Shiloh, Dias explained her mission to the Philly Voice:
I told [my mom] I was sick of reading about white boys and dogs. ‘What are you going to do about it?’ [she] asked. And I told her I was going to start a book drive, and a specific book drive, where black girls are the main characters in the book and not background characters or minor characters.
Dias’s mother Janice Johnson Dias—who grew up in Jamaica and later co-founded a social action foundation in the US—told the Philly Voice that “for young black girls in the US, context is really important… to see themselves and have stories that reflect experiences that are closer to what they have or their friends have.”
So far, Marley Dias has collected a sizable 400 books for the #1000BlackGirlBooks project, which her mother’s foundation is helping to run. When the mother-daughter duo hit their target, they’ll put together a reference guide compiling the book titles and authors. The books themselves will be donated, fittingly, to a library in St. Mary, Jamaica, where Janice Johnson Dias spent her childhood.
For those who want to take part in the the #1000BlackGirlBooks project directly, Dias and her mother are currently accepting book donations. And for those curious about Dias’s personal future: The 11-year old said she eventually wants to start a library in Philadelphia, work on independent social action projects, and edit her own magazine.