Southern Women

Meet Daliyah Arana, the South’s Most Voracious Reader

This six-year-old from Gainesville, Georgia, has already read thousands of books—and she’s just getting started

Photo: kate t. parker

Daliyah Arana at the Gainesville, Georgia, branch of the Hall County Library.

Daliyah Marie Arana can’t remember a time when she wasn’t reading. To the amazement of her parents, Haleema and Miguel, she began sounding out words at age two and read her first book before her third birthday. When Daliyah finished her thousandth book at age four, Haleema wrote to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., asking if her daughter could shadow Carla Hayden, the first woman and first African American to lead the nation’s library. Hayden agreed, and in January 2017 photos of the pair strolling the marble halls—Daliyah neatly dressed in a pink frock, pink glasses, and pink hair bow—went viral. Today, the Gainesville, Georgia, second grader has ticked up her book total to an estimated 2,700 and can read some college-level texts, but she still gets a kick out of kid lit—her favorite book is Mo Willems’s The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!


Where do you think you get your love of reading?

From my mom. Although she started reading at a normal age, like seven. She does insurance for her job: auto, life, and…I forgot the last one. When she gets stressed out, she starts to read.


What was it like to go to the Library of Congress?

The best thing was all the books! I think they have over ten million—that’s a lot more than we have at our library at home. I knew that it was the biggest library in the whole world, but I thought it was going to be smaller. I don’t even know how many workers they have. I was like, “Whoa, I didn’t know there was a library like this.”


You spent the day with the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden. What do you think the best part of her job is?

Probably reading books to children. There’s this area with beanbags, so the children can read. They have an area like that at our library [in Gainesville], too. The worst part would be organizing all the books! I’d be, “No thank you. Not today.”


How did Washington, D.C., compare to Gainesville?

It was really fun. But it was snowing, and I had to wear, like, seven pairs of clothes every day. The most fun thing was catching snowballs and licking them. And we saw the White House. It was really pretty.


Some kids say they don’t really like reading. What do you say to them?

Well, if you don’t like reading, then you don’t get any education in your mind. Learning new things is what makes reading fun…plus learning big words that you don’t
already know. I usually tell my mom if I don’t know a word, and then she helps me sound it out.


What kinds of books do you like best?

I like to read about Greek mythology.


Wow! Do you have a favorite mythology story?

Yes, it’s about unicorns! There was this selfish king, and he trapped his daughter in the dungeon because she didn’t do anything. Then one day, they saw a unicorn, and he wanted the horn. They wanted to kill it for its horn! So, he told his daughter to go out and look for the unicorn, but then the guards came and surrounded it. Then the unicorn touched the king’s chest with its horn, and he became very kind, and he only cared about his daughter. That’s why we have walruses, today.


That’s how we have walruses?

Yeah, its tusk is like a horn.


Do you like to read about history?

Yeah! I like to read about Benjamin Franklin. He invented a printer and the stove, where it heats up the room, and a lightning rod to protect houses from lightning. You know what happened? He put a key on a kite, and then he lifted it up into the lightning, and then he got electrocuted. Thankfully, he lived. And I just read a book about George Washington, the first president. He had no teeth!


Are there any women or girls from history that you like to read about?

Ruby Bridges. She was the first black woman child to go to a white school. That took a lot of courage. Ruby Bridges wrote a book about her life, so she’s a writer, too. And Rosa Parks…how she refused to give up her seat. She showed perseverance.


What about women who inspire you?

Oh, the president’s wife—the First Lady. I think she wrote a book about a hundred or two hundred years ago about her life. She was George Washington’s wife, and she was also a famous writer, back in the eighteenth century. Also my mom, because she taught me how to read. Right now I’m trying to teach my baby brother how to read.


Last year, you recited a famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” for Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. What did you think of that speech?

It was inspiring…but there was a part I couldn’t read, because it was not appropriate for children under age five. But, other than that, I think it was pretty good.


Do you have an idea of what you want to do when you grow up?

Oh yes, I want to be a paleontologist. Do you know what that is?


Someone who studies—

Dinosaurs! They dig them out, but you have to be careful and patient, because they might break. I like all the dinosaurs, and it sounds really fun digging up their bones. Do you know how much money you get for one T. rex? One million dollars! That’s a paycheck!

Read more from our August/September 2018 Southern Women issue