When you think of augmented reality (AR) literature probably isn’t the first thing that pops into your mind.
Remember the Pokemon Go game? You know the game that had everyone running the streets trying to catch em all? All you needed was the app and Charmander went from being in a game to running alongside you. Yeap, that’s AR.
Kya Johnson is the founder and CEO of RainbowMe Incorporated, she is also the author of the first AR children’s book to feature diverse fairytale and folklore characters of color from around the world.
Using AR and some dope storytelling skills, Johnson is changing the way Black kids interact with literature while also showing them they are deserving of characters who look just like them.
We got the chance to interview Johnson to learn more about her company and how being innovative can change your life and inspire others.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
SGBC: Tell me a little bit about yourself, where are you from, and what pushed you to create a book that has an augmented reality feature?
Kya Johnson: I’m from North Carolina, born and raised in Greensboro. I am the middle child (in all its glory…lol) of three with an older brother who has the artistic talent of the family, and a younger sister, who is my confidante.
I fell in love with augmented reality when I first saw the Pokemon Go game in 2016. I loved how the animated characters could appear seemingly in “thin air.” I started seeing children’s books using the technology a couple of years later, and how characters of color were missing in this technology. I knew I wanted to create a space the incorporated these aspects.
SGBC: Tell me about RainbowMe Incorporated, what pushed you to create the brand, and did you have a background in tech before this?
Kya Johnson: RainbowMe Incorporated is a multi-media company for kids with content featuring positive images of main characters of color.
I had a dream to create something in that space for a long time because I knew how important it was for kids to see positive reflections of themselves in the content they are consuming. I did not have a background in tech prior to creating the platform, or the augmented reality book.
SGBC: How long did it take to create and write O is for Oshun and pair it with the app?
Kya Johnson: From concept to completion, it took about a year to create and write O is for Oshun, then find the voices for the characters and animate the characters for the book.
SGBC: When creating O is for Oshun, how much research went into finding different diverse folklore stories from so many different cultures and countries?
Kya Johnson: When creating O is for Oshun, I wanted to make sure the book introduced a good mix of characters. I wanted to introduce goddesses, gods, fairies, princesses, kings, warriors, magical animals, etc. So it took a while to find characters whose stories I wanted to ultimately explore further, and also was a mix of different types of characters.
SGBC: What’s one thing you wish you knew before getting into publishing and tech?
Kya Johnson: I still wish I was more tech-savvy. I am partners with an amazing company called The Intellify who has done all of the tech for the book and who we will continue to work with. My tech intelligence is still relatively low…lol!
SGBC: What has been one of the peaks since publishing and creating your own company?
Kya Johnson: One of the peaks since publishing is seeing all of the love we receive for our book. It is truly gratifying and heartwarming to see the responses we receive regarding the books.
SGBC: Using the app the stories literally pop up off the page, do you plan to only do fictional books for children, or are you interested in expanding using the app?
Kya Johnson: I am loving the space that my company is in right now with the fictional/folklore/fairytale characters. I feel like, with the augmented reality, it creates space for the feeling of “magic” and “fantasy” in our stories.
I feel like we don’t see stories like that enough when it comes to characters of color. I grew up on Disney fairytales, and the feeling of magic those stories bring, so I am excited to bring this type of feeling and excitement in our adapted folklore and fairytale characters.
SGBC: Was there ever a time where you thought to yourself, “How am I going to do this?” How did you stay encouraged to keep pushing on?
Kya Johnson: Was there a time today that I thought this?…lol! I always see memes and gifs regarding the roller coaster ride it takes to be an entrepreneur and that is absolutely the truth. There may be days where 50 books were sold in one day and then the next day none.
As high as you were on the 50 book day you are just as low on the 0 book day, checking to make sure nothing fell off…lol! Staying encouraged is a daily sometimes hourly exercise. I make sure to start and end my day with gratitude whether it is a 0 day or a 50 book day.
The gratitude helps me to recognize that I am blessed every day and that God always has my ultimate good in his vision for me. Keeping this in mind helps me to get through those tough days as well as the great days.
SGBC: What advice do you have to writers who may be interested in jumping into children’s books?
Kya Johnson: My advice would be to just do it. There are so many avenues available right now to self-publish that are not expensive at all.
Also with social media, you can market directly to the people who will be buying your book. Just take the time to sit down, plan out your book and strategy to get it to your audience, and you can get it done.
SGBC: What is up next for you as an author and for RainbowMe Inc.?
Kya Johnson: We have our second book launching soon in the augmented reality Folk Fairytales series. This 2nd book explores our adapted version of the folklore tale behind the character for our K in O is for Oshun. It is titled How Kofi Amero Became the Hero of Amero. It has an anticipated launch date of February 2021.
It was a pleasure talking to Kya Johnson and learning so much about merging tech and literature. Be sure to purchase O is for Oshun and download the app, I promise you, it will be an enjoyable experience.
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