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The National Education Association assembled a panel of literacy advocates on Read Across America Day, March 2, to discuss promoting literacy among school children.

One of the panelist, 12-year-old Marley Dias, said that it’s not enough to promote reading. What’s also important is giving children of color books in which they could identify with the characters, NEA reported.

“I told my mom that I didn’t like having to read about white boys and their dogs all the time,” Marley said. “I enjoyed those books. But I was having a more diverse experience. For all I know I was the only one having that experience. That’s when I started looking for the books about Black girls.”

At age 10, Marley launched #1000BlackGirlBooks, a book drive to collect 1,000 books about Black girls. The campaign caught fire, and she’s now collected more than 9,000.

Another magnetic literacy advocate, LeVar Burton, joined Marley’s call for more racially diverse characters in books for students of color. The former host of PBS’ child literacy series, “Reading Rainbow,” applauded her work.

“It’s critical that we see ourselves represented in the popular culture,” Burton said. “Otherwise, it’s difficult if not impossible to develop a healthy self-image. These books are giving children of color an idea that they belong in the world and that the world belongs to them.”

Alicia Levi, president of Reading is Fundamental, said it’s important that authors of color share stories, and that the children’s book industry publish those stories.

The other challenge is getting these books into the hands of underserved children. Chandler Arnold, the Chief Operating Officer of First Book, which has donated 160 million books to children from low-income families, said we need to “change the narrative and do more to get these books into kids’ hands, to ignite their imaginations.”

SOURCE: National Education Association

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