Marley Dias Gets It Done and So Can You! by Marley Dias, with Siobhan McGowan, introduction by Ava DuVernay 208 pp, RL 4

Marley Dias Gets It Done and So Can You!
by Marley Dias, with Siobhan McGowan
Introduction by Ava DuVernay
Purchased from Barnes & Noble
As a fifth grader, Dias, who is now thirteen, was frustrated that the "classics" she was being required to read for school were consistently, if not singularly, about white boys and their dogs. If there had been just one book about, "a black girl and her dog . . . A braniac black girl astronaut with her trailblazing space poodle exploring the rings of Saturn . . . A fierce black girl fashion designer with her frisky Rottweiler on a rhinestone leash, owning the streets of the city . . . A fearless black girl forensic archaeologist with her inquisitive collie, uncovering fossil remains of some prehistoric species . . . If only, then none of this would have happened." #1000BlackGirlBooks is what happened. With a nudge and some very knowing help from her mother, Dr. Janice Johnson Dias, and the organization she is president of, GrassROOTS Community Foundation, a public health and social action organization to help women and girls make their lives, families and communities strong, Marley started a book drive with the goal of collecting, then donating, 1,000 books featuring black girls as main characters.

This, and a stunning statement from Dias to educators about the power of representation in literature used in the classroom got me wondering about the current state of diversity in kid's books, something that has been getting intermittent attention for the last few years. Did Dias collect 1,000 different books with black girls as characters or 1,000 total books? And are there actually, in print, in English, 1,000 DIFFERENT books with black girls as characters? Not wanting to detract from the other important issues, advice, and insights Dias shares in Marley Dias Gets It Done and So Can You!, I wrote a piece about the current state of diversity in kid's books that you can read here.
Back to Marley Dias and her magnetic personality! Marley Dias Gets It Done and So Can You! is a PHENOMENAL book for kids AND adults that I read cover to cover and have written WAY too long a review of. But I just couldn't leave anything out, and there is such good advice on so many topics that you will benefit from! This book is wonderfully visual, with tons of pictures of Marley, who says she is, "an activist. For literacy. For diversity. For equity and positive social change," and who has a great personal style. Dias discusses her style in the chapter titled, "Girls Like Me: Smart, Funny, Interesting, Adventurous," saying, "Some days I want to be a princess. Some days I want to be a king. Dressing in an androgynous way, mixing up the masculine and feminine, blurring those boundaries - I'm cool with that. No one should ever be limited to stereotypes of gender, just as no one should ever be limited by stereotypes of race." Dias, and presumably her coauthor, do a fantastic job balancing Marley's joyful, playful, vibrant, personality and love of life with the serious issues (including how to be smart and safe with social media, which can be an important tool for change) and worthy causes she calls attention to with her compassionate social action. Dias's voice is always authentic and adolescent, like when she expresses frustration with her parents for monitoring her music, saying, "I can hear more 'bad' stuff during the day at school, on the bus, and on TV - more than I will ever hear on the radio during a fifteen-minute car ride, or over breakfast while the music plays." But, again with an understanding that reads genuine, Dias says, "But hey, I want to be clear about something. Parents are looking out for their kids. I get that. To help my own parents understand me better, I talk to them. A lot . . . How can parents understand us if we don't help them see things through our eyes?"
Part memoir, part self-improvement book, part handbook for young social activists, Dias shares everything she has learned from her mother (and father) including work as part of a health ambassador program in Ghana in 2015. The chapter, "Be the Change You Want to See in the World: Get Woke!" shows readers how to gauge their - and those they are interacting with - level of "wokeness," with a hilarious and essential assessment of the "Wokeness (or not) As Represented by Cartoon Princesses." Woke? Mulan (although she is still participating in the patriarchy by joining the male-only army to protect her father) and Belle. Asleep? You guessed it: Snow White and Sleeping Beauty . . .

Dias also makes the important distinction that CHARITY ≠ ACTIVISM, writing, "Activism is reciprocal: There's a give-and-take. It's about teaching, but it's also about learning. It involves actions that create direct, meaningful impact and change - change that will benefit not just other people, but also you!" She goes on to say that, while she donates books from the #1000blackgirlbooks campaign to communities that need them, she doesn't just do it out of the goodness of her heart, but to, "see black girl books on more school mandatory reading lists, including books I  write. I want to change the way we imagine and think about black girls. These are primary goals behind my appearances on TV and at other events. That's me "being the change. I've had some success, too, btw. Because of #1000blackgirlbooks, Rita Williams-Garcia's One Crazy Summer was added to the curriculum of my old elementary school in New Jersey. Now hundreds of children can re-image black girls!" Dias lays out fourteen ways to make a difference and, in the chapter titled, "The Activist's Toolbox," she shares twenty-one strategies, from "positive thoughts and practical shoes," to help activists stay, " happy, sane, safe, on point, and blister-free while you challenge the systems of oppression."

As an activist for literacy and a self-described, "total book nerd," (as well as science and math nerd) devotes the final third of her book to this subject, starting with a chapter titled, "How to Read: Why It's More than Words." Wanting everyone to enjoy reading as much as she does, Dias's first words are READ EVERY DAY. Seems obvious, but it can get lost very easily in this day and age. Next she tells readers to WRITE EVERY DAY, an almost equally vital piece of advice and key to becoming a better reader, just as reading makes you a better writer. She goes on to tell readers not to wait for later to start reading and writing every day, then urges them to, "Step Out of Your Comfort Zone" and read something you think you don't like. Dias raises up graphic novels - READING PICTURES COUNTS, and, OH HOW I LOVE HER FOR THIS... dedicates three paragraphs to the importance, joy and educational value in being read TO, no matter how old you are. Dias writes, 

Here's another experiment that has never failed me: No matter what grade you're in, or how old you are, ask your teacher if you can stay for a few minutes after school so that she can read one chapter to you out of your or her favorite book. I bet you she will definitely say yes, because one of the things adults sometimes forget to tell kids is that reading aloud brings them as much happiness as it brings you.

I am crying, just a little, as I type Dias's words, knowing how much I would LOVE any of my students to ask me to read to read out loud to them and also thinking about how much happiness it DOES bring me to read out loud to kids, and how I really need to tell them that more! And, bless that girl again, she tells readers about the insidious SUMMER SLIDE, suggesting kids have more than one book going at a time - one for bed at night, one for short car trips or on the school bus, one for the couch and so on. Speaking directly to parents and teachers (and any adult who wants to help kids love to read), Dias advises parents/adults to MODEL READING: read in front of your child and TALK ABOUT what you are reading. For teachers, she says, IMMERSE YOUR SCHOOL CULTURE IN BOOK TALKS and "talk about books with the same enthusiasm expressed for joyous experiences, such as sports, video games, action parks and music." The final two chapters tell readers how to FIND good books, with many resources for finding multiculturally diverse books, and a whole chapter on how to give a book talk!

Back matter includes 500 book recommendations from Dias's Black Girl Books Resource Guide, focusing on books for middle graders and young adults. The entire guide (more than 1000 unique titles) can be found here.

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