“We are brown girls who read!!” proclaims the about page for sisters Zaria (13) and Hailey Willard (9) from Dover, Delaware. The girls are sharing their love and passion for books and reading every night with children across the globe.
Zaria and Hailey created a Facebook page called Zaria X Hailey where every night, the sisters share a bedtime story with anyone who chooses to listen in.
“Our mom has been reading to us since birth and that, in my opinion, has helped me develop a love for reading. My sister and I were lying in bed one night giggling about something when this idea came about. We presented the idea to my mom and she agreed it would be great. She personally doesn’t want us to be on social media but we all agreed being on it in a positive way would help light the world,” they said.
The idea came to them from their love of bedtime reading their mother did with them, and they knew that there was an opportunity to share their passion for stories with other kids. Zaria and Hailey especially knew there was value in doing it because not every child is as lucky as they are.
“Parents sometimes work late or are too tired for stories. We are not only helping children, we are giving parents a nice break after a long day of work,” they note on their Facebook page.
Every Sunday, the girls go with their family to the local library and pick out the books they’ll share in the coming week. In an interview with Good Morning America, Zaria said, “We pick books with characters who look like us, because not a lot of kids see books with characters who look like us.”
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin’s annual publishing statistics about children’s books by and about people of color confirms this. In 2018, out of over 3700 books they looked at, the center found only 198 books by black authors and 402 about black characters; 36 by Native American/First Nations People and 52 about them; 340 books by Asian/Pacific authors and 309 about them; and 204 books by Latinx authors and 251 about Latinx characters.
By seeking out and sharing these books, the Willard sisters are not only able to see themselves and allow others to be seen, but they’re making clear how vital these books are—and that there need to be many, many more.
They’ve been enjoying their project being seen and recognized more widely, and the girls note that they’re eager to bring their love for reading—and their advocacy and passion for books featuring characters of color—into an even brighter spotlight.
“So far our favorite part of doing this has been hanging out together and coming up with ideas for how to further our reach. We have so many great things that we cant wait to share with the world,” Zaria said to Book Riot.
Being such huge readers, it’s hard for Hailey and Zaria to pick and choose their all-time favorite books.
“Hailey enjoys books by Dr. Seuss and I am in love with thriller books. Girl Stolen by April Henry was a very good one. We enjoy reading and sharing stories that feature brown characters because we don’t often get to see brown characters portrayed as heroes,” said Zaria. “Personally we love the Twintuition series by the well known twin sisters, Tia & Tamera Mowry.”
These bedtime stories are perfect for readers of all ages. The girls are animated, enthusiastic, and read with infectious excitement. It’s especially sweet to see them grow as they practice, too—these aren’t rehearsed readings nor polished to Insta-perfection. These are two real girls sharing stories.
And their book nook is impressive as well.
It’s hard not to see projects like this continuing to spread, and it’s impossible not to see the girls’ plans for their work continuing to spread, similarly to how other young girls of color like Marley Dias.
Without question, Zaria and Hailey Willard will continue to be people to know and watch grow. Their story times begin at 8:30 pm Eastern Time every day but Sunday and can be viewed on Facebook or their Instagram Live feed.
This is one bedtime story date you’ll never want to miss.