Q&A: Thomas’s App for Young Readers

Jennifer Baker
From the July/August 2017 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

In the summer of 2014, eighteen-year-old Kaya Thomas launched We Read Too, an app that offers a comprehensive database of multicultural books for young readers. Thomas had been frustrated with the difficulty of finding books by and about people of color in libraries and bookstores, so she designed and wrote the code for the app (she recently graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in computer science), which now has information on hundreds of books and more than fifteen thousand users. “I knew that if my app had even helped one person feel represented and showed them that their stories are being told too,” wrote Thomas in a piece at Medium about starting the app, “I had done my job.” Word spread further about We Read Too in March after Thomas launched an Indiegogo campaign to expand the app and raised $15,000. In the next several months, Thomas plans to launch a website for We Read Too and expand its catalog to more than a thousand books. As work on the app progresses, Thomas spoke about her larger mission and hopes for We Read Too. 

Kaya Thomas (Credit: Faith Rotich)

How has the We Read Too app evolved over the years?
When I first released We Read Too, it had a directory that included 300 children’s and young adult titles. Each title had a detail page where you could view the book cover, title, author, and description. There was also a suggestion feature where users could send me titles they thought should be included. Since then the directory has expanded to more than 630 titles, and you can search by author or title. You can now share any of the books via text message, e-mail, or social media, and you can view the book on Safari to purchase it. There’s also a discovery feature now that allows you to see one random book at a time so you don’t have to search through the entire directory.

Was it a purposeful decision to include both self-published and traditionally published books in this list? 
I wanted to include self-published works because it can be hard for those authors to get readers to discover their work. A lot of authors who are self-published have reached out to me in hopes that We Read Too can be a place for them to get more reader discovery for their work. I know that for authors of color it can be hard to get into the publishing world, so I want to support those who haven’t gone through the traditional routes. I want all authors of color to have their work highlighted in We Read Too, regardless of how they got their work out there.

Do you have plans to include adult fiction in the app?
I eventually do want to include adult fiction in the app, but it would be a larger undertaking because there are so many different genres within that category. I want to make sure I have a significant number of titles in each genre before I add them to the app. 

We Read Too is free. Do you think you will ever charge for it so you can continue updates and expansion? 
We Read Too will always be free for individual users. I never want to charge users to access the directory of titles because that would be counterintuitive toward the mission. I want titles written by people of color to be easier to discover and all in one place, not blocked by a paywall. I want users to discover titles they can share with the young people in their lives and community. I want users to know that these titles exist and, more specifically, for users who are people of color, I want them to see that there are authors who share their background and are creating work that reflects their culture in some way.    

Jennifer Baker is a publishing professional, the creator and host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, the panel organizer for the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books, and the social medial director and a writing instructor for Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop. She is the editor of the forthcoming short story anthology Everyday People: The Color of Life (Atria Books, 2018).