article by Katherine Brooks via huffingtonpost.com
As a kid, Kaya Thomas enjoyed reading. “No matter how old I was, what I was going through, how I felt in any moment, a book was always a means of escape” she wrote in a blog post in 2015. “A way to dive into a new world and become a new character.”As a self-professed “nerdy black girl in high school,” Thomas’ love of books, and the escapism they afforded, only grew. She’d read three or four a week, seeking solace in their pages when she “felt very different than most of my peers.”
Something changed in those high school years, though. As a mature reader, she began to pay more attention to how the characters in her favorite books were described ― namely, how they were meant to look. “When I was a teenager I began to realize that a lot of the books I read didn’t have characters that looked like me,” she’s since admitted. “Realizing that made me feel invisible.”
So as a student at Dartmouth College, Thomas decided to do something about her sense of invisibility. Not only did she search the internet, compiling her own list of books written by authors of color that put characters of color in primary storylines, she learned to code so that she could share her database with other young readers. After taking part in a Black Girls Code hackathon, and learning the ins and outs of iOs during an internship, Thomas devised an iPhone app that functioned as a directory of 300 books showcasing characters of color.
“Young people should be able to see themselves represented in literature, so they know that their stories are important and that there are authors who […] celebrate their background and show the real lives of people like them,” Thomas wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. She cited books like Nalo Hopkinson’s The Chaos and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus as influential titles in her own life.
“When young people don’t see themselves represented positively in books, TV, movies and other forms of media, that erasure really harms self-image and how you perceive yourself as you grow up,” she added. Thomas’ app ― We Read Too ― launched in 2014 and has since grown to include over 600 relevant books. It’s also amassed over 15,000 iPhone users, who’ve downloaded the free app and suggested 1,600 other titles be added to the database.
And Thomas wants to meet their demands.Her skills as an iOS developer have grown throughout the course of her various internships and engagement with online development communities. She recently launched an Indiegogo campaign with the hopes of updating her app, quickly surpassing her goal of raising $10,000. Now with a stretch goal of $25,000, she has a few more objectives in mind: hire someone to review the books users suggest and grow the database to include 1,000 titles, create an Android version of We Read Too and initiate a UI redesign, and create a website version of her directory.