As a child, I loved spending Saturday afternoons at Eso Won Books, a Black-owned bookstore in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. The store was filled with books full of images of Black girls, girls just like me. Eso Won often hosted storytime sessions where Black children, like myself, would actively participate in dramatic readings of books about children of the African Diaspora.
As African-American children, we were privileged to have such a rich resource at our fingertips. While bookstores have been on a rapid decline in neighborhoods nationwide, largely because of the advent of digital e-books and popular online retailers like Amazon.com, educators, caretakers and advocates must ensure that all children have access to diverse images and stories that affirm identity and support development.
Books that celebrate diversity teach girls that it is okay to self-express, identify, and create their own definition of Blackness, Black girlhood and Black womanhood in a society that often discourages Black girls from authoring their own narratives. Books about Black girls and women provide concrete alternatives to negative stereotypes about Black women and girls frequently perpetuated by popular media.
Storylines with Black female main characters supplement in-school experiences where the stories of Black people are often misrepresented or excluded from the classroom curriculum. Stories with Black main characters fill in where classroom curricula leave gaps. In addition, narratives with people of color at the forefront introduce readers to new vocabulary words, customs, people, and places that they otherwise might not have learned about.
Marley Dias, the 11-year-old powerhouse behind the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign has indicated that reading about characters similar to herself affirms her identity. She said, “I believe black girl books are really important because when you are young you want to read lots of books, but you especially like to read books with people that look like you.” In addition, books with Black girls as the main characters provide concrete examples of what she could aspire to become, helping her to visualize pathways to success, happiness, and health.
It is often said that through books, readers are able to go on adventures without ever leaving the comfort of their home, desk or reading nook. Books and the worlds readers can create serves as safe spaces for Black girls, who are disproportionately affected by in-school disciplinary action and often feel excluded from conversations about the well-being of girls.
Here is how you can help provide greater access to diverse books for Black girls.
- Visit a library and check out diverse children’s books. Here’s a list to find over 7,000 Black Girl books.
- Make reading fun by hosting a reading party! Check out photos from our reading party with Marley and Marsai here.
- Read with youth. Ask important follow-up questions and mentor by sharing your own stories.
- Ensure that your or your child’s curriculum and in-school activities are diverse.