Dartmouth College student Kaya Thomas went to the library almost every day after high school. In a 2015 blog post for Stories From Women In Tech, Thomas recalls, 'I tended to pick up three or four books to read a week. Reading served as a great escape for a nerdy black girl... who had often felt very different than most of my peers.'
But in order to engage with the narratives available in her library, Thomas often had to imagine herself 'as a white teen girl with blonde or brown hair and blue eyes.' The books that did portray young women of color were also problematic and participated in reductive stereotypes. Thomas writes, 'There was one section with maybe 10 or so urban fiction books... many of which featured black teens dropping out of high school, selling drugs, and getting pregnant.'
These books did not depict young women like Thomas — 'black girls who loved books, learning, and tinkering.'
Coming to terms with her own erasure from literature made Thomas feel 'invisible.' In an e-mail to the Huffington Post, Thomas wrote, '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.'
This is why she launched We Read Too.
After learning to code in 2013 during a Black Girls Code hackathon, Thomas wanted to create an iOS app that compiled books written by authors of color, depicting characters of color in complex ways. According to the app's Indiegogo page, Thomas 'started working on We Read Too with the goal of supporting children of color — Black, Latinx, Native, Indigenous, Asian, and Pacific Islander.'
Thomas notes that though the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin found that 12% of children's books are written or illustrated by people of color, there is no comprehensive resource that amasses these titles. She writes, 'I want We Read Too to be the central resource where authors of color can know their work is being celebrated and readers can find books with diverse representation.'
We Read Too reached its original fundraising goal of 10,000 in less than 24 hours. When it launched in 2014, We Read Too's directory featured 300 books. Since then, that number has doubled to 600. If Thomas reaches her stretch goal of 25,000, the We Read Too directory will expand to include 500 adult fiction books, both authored by and about people of color. In 2017, Thomas hopes that We Read Too's directory will grow to include over 1,000 books.
Donate to We Read Too's Indiegogo here.
Top image: Indiegogo.com
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Olivia Loperfido is an English and psychology major at New York University's College of Arts and Sciences, and the junior editor of NYU's Mercer Street (2017-'18). She enjoys spending time with her dogs and tortoise, watching RuPaul's Drag Race, and contacting her state representatives. Follow her on Instagram here and contact her via email here.