In high school, Kaya Thomas was a self-proclaimed “nerdy black girl.” She loved books, but she often felt like the literary world didn’t love her back.
“As a teen, I was feeling erased by the books I was reading at my libraries and at school,” Thomas says. “The characters were never anything like myself.”
Libraries were filled with pages upon pages of white characters going on adventures dreamed up by white authors. Thomas, however, was looking for books that made her feel seen — and she knew others were, too.
“As a teen, I was feeling erased by the books I was reading my libraries and at school.”
So when she grew from a nerdy black girl into a black woman studying computer science at Dartmouth, she knew she could help close this literary gap. Now, she’s the creator of a free app called We Read Too, which allows young readers to browse more than 600 books featuring black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, and other non-white characters. All of the featured books are written by people of color, with readers of color in mind.
The simple app specifically targets children and young adults of color, cataloging books in a searchable database by author and title. Each book’s profile features a plot description, a photo of the cover, and links to share the book on social media or buy it online. There’s also a “discover” feature, which randomly matches users to a book by genre.
Thomas is currently fundraising on Indiegogo to expand the app, hoping to feature more than 1,000 books. The campaign has already raised more than $12,000, surpassing its original goal of $10,000.
With the money, Thomas plans to launch an Android version of the app this year, and redesign the iOS version with new features.
The iOS app originally launched in August 2014, the summer before Thomas’ sophomore year at Dartmouth. Since then, We Read Too has been downloaded more than 15,000 times.
Those thousands of readers using the app play an integral role in the service. Thomas selects many of the books to feature on We Read Too with the help of the app’s “suggestions” feature. Users send in titles they recommend, and Thomas reviews them to make sure they fit the submission criteria before adding them to the catalogue.
We Read Too doesn’t just cater to young readers hoping to find stories they can relate to. Ultimately, it challenges publishers, libraries, and schools to grant more representation to people of color in their selections.
“It’s the message I am trying to display to the world,” Thomas says, referring to the app’s name. “We love to read, too, and want to see ourselves in the stories we read just like anyone else would.”