Looking for Children's Books With Black Characters? There's an App for That

Kaya Thomas developed We Read Too to help users quickly find a wider range of books.

Three months before his passing in July, best-selling children’s book author Walter Dean Myers penned an op-ed about a glaring issue within his industry.

"In 1969, when I first entered the world of writing children’s literature, the field was nearly empty. Children of color were not represented, nor were children from the lower economic classes,” Myers wrote. "Today, when about 40 percent of public school students nationwide are black and Latino, the disparity of representation is even more egregious. In the middle of the night I ask myself if anyone really cares.”

Well, one college student cared enough about representation in literature to launch a mobile application spotlighting children's and young adult books written by and about people of color.

"The older I got, the more frustrated I became that all the popular books in stores and online focused on white characters,” We Read Too founder Kaya Thomas told "Whenever I tried to find books with characters of color, I would have to look in sub-categories or search longer than I should have had to. I created this app so that books created by and for people of color can be found easily and in one central location."

Within three days of debuting in the iTunes App store in August, the app had already received more than 350 downloads. We Read Too users can browse more than 300 books across various genres written by authors of color featuring characters of color. 

"It's about time something like this came around!” reads a We Read Too customer review. "I only wish I had something like this when I was younger! Children of color read too!"
Thomas, a current computer science major at Dartmouth College, spoke with about the makings of We Read Too and her future plans for the innovative app.

How much time, effort and funding have you put into the making and promoting of We Read Too?

I put months of work into making We Read Too. I just started programming in November 2013 and I was completely new to app development. I saved up money from work study and my internship to launch the application.

Is this a one-woman show or have you had any help or support developing and marketing We Read Too?

I developed the app completely by myself. I used online tutorials to learn general app development and then used those skills to create the features for my app. I have had tons of support from my family and friends in spreading the word about We Read Too. Once I made the Twitter account and Facebook page, all the retweets and shares helped the app get over 600 downloads in a week! I must thank Hannah Giorgis, Feminista Jones and Innov8tiv Magazine for being the first to feature We Read Too on their sites. 

What constructive feedback have you received from users so far?

Some users have expressed a need for more categorization within the app and I have gotten a lot of requests for an Android version. I will start development on Android as soon as I can and I hope to launch it in early 2015.

What short-term and long-term effects do you predict We Read Too will have on your users?

I think short term it will be a resource for finding books online and even a companion app for going to a bookstore. Long term, I want this app to grow more into a mini library app for people of color and maybe even have in-app previews of the books. The app has over 350 books, but has the capacity to hold thousands of books and several genres.

How do you plan on balancing your school work and your We Read Too tasks?

I am going to have to be the queen of time management this year. I am taking on a lot of new responsibilities on campus, such as being an undergraduate residential advisor and teaching assistant, but I will always make time for We Read Too and its users. My weekends will be filled with studying along with work on updating the app.

What other projects do you have in the pipeline?

I want to make more technical software that helps communities I am apart of. We Read Too is my main project for awhile, but I want to continue to use my technical skills to develop resources that solve problems in our communities.

This interview has been edited for clarity purposes.

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(Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images)

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