Meet the multi-talented powerhouse, Zaila Avant-garde!

It’s Not Bragging if It’s True shares your personal journey of setting and achieving several goals in your life so far. Who is someone who inspired and inspires you to go after your dreams.

Someone who inspires me to go after my dreams is definitely Mae Jemison. Mae Jemison was an engineer and physician, who became the first African-American woman to travel to outer space in 1992 aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. When I was a little girl, my dad bought me a little kids book called Mae Among The Stars about her and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve always been impressed by how she pushed forward through massive amounts of adversity and kicked the doors down to rooms nobody wanted her in. And when she got there, she showed up and showed out! (get it?)… Okay, so maybe it is a dad joke. Show up and show out is the name of a chapter of It’s Not Bragging if It’s true.

In Words of Wonder from Z to A, you share 26 inspirational words, one for each of the 26 letters in the alphabet. Do you have a favorite word in the book, and what is its meaning to you?

My favorite word in the book is probably DREAM. I love that word because there’s a line that goes, “Dream is a little kid in front of that giant bookshelf in the living room looking with wonder at all those big colorful books” and that line was written straight from the heart because one of my most vivid childhood memories is standing in front of the seemingly gigantic bookshelf in my living room filled with all kinds of books from my parent’s hefty college textbooks, to books like Catch-22, and a Sidney Poitier’s autobiography. I definitely think that the sheer amount of books my family had just lying around and the diversity of those books definitely contributed to me being very well-read.

You have such a love for words, storytelling, and spelling, do you also love reading? What book helped you love reading?

Yes, I do love to read. I’ve actually read well over 1,000 books. Two books I vividly remember loving as a young girl are Under The Sunday tree by Eloise Greenfield and of course Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise. Those and of course anything that involved Paddington the Bear, although those books were more laughed through than read through.

You are truly a multi-talented powerhouse! Is there anything that you are afraid of trying?

ABSOLUTELY NOT! I would try just about anything except get within 100 feet of a spider web or within 1 mile of a snake. Other than that, I would do anything. I definitely want to one day participate in activities such as bungee jumping, ziplining, hangliding, cave exploring, etc.

What’s something about you that people might be surprised to learn?

I have noticed a lot of people are surprised about is my height. I guess because of my baby-ish voice, people think that I’m going to be like 4’9 or something. So there’s often a visceral reaction once they realize I am taller. I am a little over 5’8.

If you could invite any three people for dinner, who would you invite?

Just 3? Well, for sure I would invite Whitney Houston, my favorite singer, Mae Jemison, one of my sheroes, and Serena and Venus Williams (They come together as one person for the purposes of this article)

If It’s Not Bragging if It’s True is turned into a movie, who would you want to play you?

I would like either Saniyya Sidney or Demi Singleton to play me in a movie. They play Serena and Venus Williams in the movie King Richard, one of my favorite movies.


It's Not Bragging If It's True

It's Not Bragging If It's True By Zaila Avant-garde with Marti Dumas

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Kids will be inspired to embrace their inner weirdness and persevere through obstacles after reading this empowering collection of true stories from teenage Scripps National Spelling Bee champ and Guinness World Record holder Zaila Avant-garde! Includes 8 pages of never-before-seen photos.

After Zaila Avant-garde became the first African American student to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2021, she turned into an overnight sensation. People wanted to know who she was and how she'd achieved so much while so young. 

In this nonfiction book, Zaila shares the personal anecdotes that have shaped her life and extends advice to readers on living authentically. While Zaila is an exceptional and inspiring young woman, she has fears and anxieties just like everyone else; what makes her remarkable is the way she chooses to move through the obstacles in front of her.

Zaila shares about her family, her accomplishments, her experience of being homeschooled, and so much more in order to motivate and uplift other kids who have small-, medium-, and even big-sized dreams.

Words of Wonder from Z to A

Words of Wonder from Z to A By Zaila Avant-garde; illustrated by Keisha Morris

An inspiring picture book from Scripps National Spelling Bee champ Zaila Avant-garde, filled with her favorite motivational words from Z to A. Perfect for your little book lover and spelling ace!

When 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde became the first Black American student to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2021, the world took notice.

Now, this extraordinary speller, writer, and basketball champ celebrates the world of words, with 26 of Zaila's favorite words, such as KINDNESS, HOPE, and RESILIENCE, alongside Zaila's encouraging and poetic thoughts.

Each bright and busy page also includes an inspiring quotation from a famous thought leader. And an afterword to the book details the fascinating origins of each word.

It's an uplifting picture book packed with motivation, learning, and fun, from one of America's most promising, unique, and accomplished young people.

Zaila Avant-garde

ZAILA AVANT-GARDE is a multi-talented powerhouse and a New York Times bestselling author, with success springing from all her endeavors and all before the ninth grade. She was named SportsKid of the Year 2021 by Sports Illustrated Kids.

Hailing from New Orleans, Louisiana, she won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee, making her the first African-American to win in almost 100 years of the competition. Avant-garde landed on her winning word, murraya—a type of tree—by associating the word with famous comedian Bill Murray, who surprised her by phoning in during her appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Avant-garde’s spelling triumph is just one entry on a very impressive resume. Along with competing in spelling bees for two years, Avant-garde holds two Guinness World Records for her basketball prowess. She holds the records for the most bounce juggles in one minute (four basketballs) and most basketballs dribbled simultaneously by one person (six basketballs).

Her success has been celebrated by the likes of Barack and Michelle Obama, LeBron James, and Dr. Jill Biden, who attended the bee. Since winning the Bee, Zaila has appeared in a cameo role in Netflix’s “HUSTLE”, as well as NBA on TNT, and Peacock’s “Kid’s Tonight Show”. You can also see her displaying her basketball skills in brand campaigns for Carnival Cruise Lines, BYJU, Xbox, and Gymshark.

Random House Teachers and Librarians