11-Year-Old New Jersey Girl Starts the #1000BlackGirlBooks Campaign

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One young girl is tackling the lack of diversity in children’s literature head on.

Marley Dias, an 11-year-old girl from New Jersey, has started a campaign to collect 1,000 children’s books that feature black girl protagonists. The idea came to Dias after she realized that not a single one of the books assigned to her school class featured girls of color.

“In my fifth grade class, we were only reading books about white boys and their dogs,” Dais told Good Day Philadelphia. “And I understood why my teacher wanted us to read those books, because those are the books he could connect with. But I didn’t necessarily connect with them.”

After broaching the issue at home, Dias’ mother, Dr. Janice Johnson Dias, asked her daughter what she wanted to do about the issue. The young girl’s response was to start a book drive. The #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign aims to collect the books featuring black girl characters and then on Feb. 13, Dias and her non-profit partner GrassROOTS Community Foundation will play host to a book festival at Retreat Primary School in St. Mary, Jamaica.

In an interview with the Philly Voice, Dias shared that 400 books had already been collected, putting her nearly halfway at her goal. She hopes to collect all 1,000 books by Feb.1.

Dias’ efforts not only illustrate a good deed, but highlight the publishing industry’s glaring diversity issue. In a 2014 study by The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center, annual statistics for books by and about people of color raised serious red flags. Of the 3,000 to 3,500 sample used by the center, only 179 books were about Africans/African Americans, 36 books were about American Indians, 112 books were about Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans, and 66 books were about Latinos.

The overall number of books by and about people of color constituted only 14% of the books, which was reportedly up from 2013’s 10%. Children’s book publisher Lee and Low also presented their own data from their 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey, which pointed out that the diversity in publishing issue is far larger than just the characters in the books.

Dias’ effort joins the ranks of several other ongoing campaigns, including the We Need More Diverse Books initiative, in trying to tackle the publishing industry’s representation issue.

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