Hi! I’ve just come off a year of being on the Stonewall Book Award Committee, and boy is my brain tired. I spent two years on the Rainbow List (check out their 2018 list, by the way), but this was my first time on a book award committee, and the work load is no joke. I learned, once again, that once I’m “assigned” a book, I can sometimes drag my feet when it comes to reading and completing titles, but also that the imposed structure and pace of an awards committee makes me a more dedicated and efficient reader.
Now that my committee work is over, I’m excited at the prospect of reading whatever the hell I want to, whenever I want to, but I’m also missing the discipline I got from strict parameters and goals. That’s why I’m giving myself a mission:
By the end of the year, I want to read 50 middle grade titles. Before I started working for a school, I interacted with a larger age range of children. I did a lot of Toddler and Infant storytimes, so I was pretty knowledgable when it came to board books and early chapter books. Typically, my afternoons were spent at the Young Adult reference desk, so I became an avid reader of teen titles. This focus on the youngest and oldest kids really left a gap in my reading. I read middle grade titles fairly sometimes, but infrequently, and honestly, I didn’t really suffer for it. Now, however, many of my readers fall into the middle grade category. My students range from Pre-K to 4th grade, so my knowledge of infant and YA titles doesn’t really come into play. I’m aiming for 50 middle grade titles by 2018 in order to better serve my student population. It is my plan to mostly read titles that are #OwnVoices, as well as any titles by WOC and queer authors (though, it’s important to mention that when it comes to LGBTQ lit, middle grade is a near-ghost town). I will also probably break my own rules a lot, because, you know, why not?
Today, I will be talking about the first book I chose to read, Marley Dias Gets it Done: And So Can You! by Marley Dias. Marley Dias, in case you’re the one librarian who doesn’t know about her, is the literary activist who founded the 1000 Black Girl Books resource guide and movement. Marley created 1000 Black Girl Books to shine a spotlight on children’s books with black girl protagonists. In her introduction on the website, Marley reminds us that, “Black girl books are not just for black girls; they are for all children because not all black girl stories are the same. Teachers, school boards and parents need to make sure that all children have access to these stories.”
As far as young-reader appeal goes, Marley Dias Gets it Done has it in droves. It reads like a magazine, with glossy, colorful pages (brimming with pictures of Marley and her impeccable style) and lots of sidebars. Marley’s style is conversational, humorous, up-front, and honest (for some reason, I could not stop laughing when Marley said that she’s sick of her parents forcing her to watch the Janet and Michael Jackson “Scream” video: “I don’t need to watch that video again, thank you very much.”). It may seem intimidating to readers that Marley has become quite accomplished at a very young age, but she offers concrete, simple, and accessible advice for would-be child activists. At the end of the book, readers will have a variety of strategies to add to their “activist’s toolbox.”
Adults will appreciate Marley’s reminders to be responsible on social media, her love and respect for her family, and her dedication to inclusive literature. Marley even takes the time to address parents and teachers specifically, giving them tips for book-talking, building compelling classroom libraries, and simply getting your child to read more.
Librarians and readers who’ve been advocates in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement will be happy to hear Marley expertly echo what so many of us have been thinking: We need to see more black girls (and girls of color, in general) on book covers, we deserve to read stories about black girls that exist beyond the narrative of slavery or civil rights, and that really solid representation can create a reader where there was none. Like Marley says, “How can educators expect kids to love, instead of dread, reading when they never see themselves in the stories they’re forced to read?…If there are no black girl books as part of the curriculum, then how are we expected to believe all that stuff that teachers and parents are constantly telling us about how we’re “all equal”? If we’re all equal, then we should all be represented equally. If black girls’ stories are missing, then the implication is that they don’t matter.”
Reading this book has me thinking about how adults can support child and teen activists. I’ve been thinking about people like Emma González, David Hogg, and other students of Parkland, Florida, who have been remarkable advocates for gun control, or Mari Copeny, aka Little Miss Flint, who has raised over $20,000 to send kids from Flint, Michigan to go see A Wrinkle in Time in movie theaters, or Zoe Terry, who has been collecting and distributing over 20,000 dolls of color to other children. I’m so impressed with the initiative and drive of these young people, but simultaneously, I’m fully aware that it’s our inadequacy as adults that has forced them to take on the roles of grown-ups when they should still be firmly planted in childhood.
I’m grateful that Marley Dias’s book has given me so much to think about and I think it’s a solid pick for kids, teachers, and librarians alike.
Next, I’ll be reading Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes.
~Love and Libraries, Ingrid