Reading for leisure is a lifetime hobby. For many readers, books can provide an escape from reality, regardless of genre, and the novelty of a new book is exciting with every turning page. But book clubs bring readers back down to Earth. Convening and conversing about a recent read provides the essential human element of connection. The first rule of book club: talk about book club.
Today, there is a multitude of book clubs readers can join; celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon initiated noteworthy clubs, stamping books with their seal of approval. From athletes to authors, it seems as though everyone has a book club! But in the age of technology, when digital screens and social media seem to consume every waking moment, how do avid and reluctant readers alike disconnect from smartphones and reconnect with a book? And with millions of books to choose from, where does one start the search? One word: Literati.
Literati and Literati Kids offer thoughtful curation and book recommendations right to your door. “The world is full of digital distractions, and we think the world desperately needs the nourishment that great books bring,” said CEO and founder Jessica Ewing. The Austin-based startup company began in 2016 when Ewing, who has a tech-based background, began her literary journey by pursuing her passion for writing. “I’m a writer at heart,” Ewing said.
“When I was 26, I ended a promising career building consumer technology products at Google to go write a novel.” The CEO said her love affair with books fueled the insight that powered Literati Kids to transform the book space.
The entrepreneur set out to offer young readers their own kind of book club. “After a few ideas, I landed on book clubs,” she said, “and what is now our Literati Kids product entered the market.” And this idea, a monthly subscription of book boxes, filled the gap in the market, as it is difficult to ensure children are reading developmentally appropriate books that simultaneously resonate with them, Ewing said. “Our try-before-you-buy model for our kid’s product solved that need.”
Four years later, Literati Kids has quickly become a premier children’s book subscription service. The company’s purpose and mission are to “inspire lifelong learning and cultivate world-shaping conversations through the curation and discussion of books,” according to its founder.
The membership, priced at $9.95, includes five new, age-appropriate books every month for children ages 0 to 12. In an age where skimming over a digital screen is more common than a book, there is inherent value in a book service specifically created with kids in mind. “Investing in making your child fall in love with books is the single best return on investment you can make as a parent,” Ewing said. “Kids who fall in love with reading by the third grade have positive outcomes that last for decades above their non-bookish peers.”
Each monthly book box is based on a theme. The thematic element was inspired by another beloved subscription box service: BarkBox. “Someone gifted me a few months of BarkBox when I got a new puppy, and I thought the themes were brilliant and hilarious,” the CEO said.
According to the company’s website, the themes help foster “conversations appropriate to your child’s level of understanding about these subjects.” Through new ideas and new genres, the brand hopes to ignite the love of reading in young readers.
“Our themes are more artistic, intellectual, or cultural,” Ewing said. “But they manage to form a schema around each box that keeps it endlessly interesting.” The founder said Literati works with artists who create original artwork and personalized stickers for each of the kids’ boxes. “We want every unboxing to inspire wonder and spark curiosity and love of life.”
The uniquely named children’s book clubs are organized by age and are intentionally curated with a child’s developmental level in mind. “Reading is so crucial to a child’s development,” Ewing said. Literati Kids designed a direct correlation between a child’s growth and the content of each book club; as a child’s intellectual growth becomes more expansive, so do the books.
“. . . parents either don’t have the time or are paralyzed by the ‘paradox of choice’ and just end up buying the classics and well-known books,” the CEO said. “We knew we were solving a really big issue for parents,” the founder said.
Parents and guardians have full control over when children graduate to the next book club, from picture books to chapter books, without sacrificing the compelling aspect of the stories. Selecting what stories are shared with members has been a process. “For the first two years, I led the curation myself and it was just two of us [at Literati Kids] working on it,” Ewing said. Those at the company involved in the selection process obsessed and debated on the book box’s contents, eventually launching their choices into the market and studying what customers kept and returned said the CEO. This experiment was the basis of what Literati Kids uses today.
“Today, we have a team focused on finding the best books,” Ewing said. “We look for stories that are artful, special, and engaging.” These stories include award-winning novels, books on the bestsellers lists, and Literati exclusives. Each club is supported by the company’s commitment to “embrace diversity, revere nature, and reflect universal human values,” according to the website.
But for Literati Kids, picking books goes beyond what authors and novels are trending and instead retreats back into why people gravitate toward reading a book: connection and inspiration. “We read the books ourselves, and if we aren’t completely blown away by the narrative, we don’t choose it,” the CEO said. “We see every book as a piece of art, and we choose books that stand out.”
The Austin-based company recently turned the page to a new chapter: Luminaries. Ewing said with the company’s new platform, it hopes to extend the same magic beyond kid’s books and change the lives of adults who love to read.
Now, adults can enjoy the perks of a customized book box. The recent addition to the brand’s services answers the question readers everywhere ask themselves: what should I read now? “It’s fun to see the luminaries obsess over their selections as much as we obsess over ours,” the CEO said.
The membership for adults, priced at $20 per month, is an exclusive book club led by the world’s most influential minds. Curated by Stephen Curry, Malala Yousafzai, Richard Branson, Susan Orlean, and Joseph Campbell, members receive a new book each month that is personally selected by luminaries as a part of their respective clubs to reflect a common motif: from overcoming adversity to underrated reads. The luminaries include thoughtful notes and personal insight for readers within each book.
Literati has taken the next step in book clubs during the digital age: an app! The company will allow members to connect with each other and their luminary through Literati’s new iOS application launching in Beta come October 2020. The app will cultivate conversations about the monthly book, the luminary’s notes, and connect readers’ thoughts with each other.
“On the luminary side, we intend to expand the platform and build out a whole bunch more community features,” Ewing said. Downloadable through smartphones, members who sign up for a Luminary book club will be placed in line for access, and the company will grow the number of members allowed on the app each month.
“We are only concerned with creating the best possible community for our members,” she said. And with a growing community of book lovers, the “world’s most influential book clubs” might just get a whole lot bigger.
“We are excited about the future of Literati,” the CEO said. “It’s going to be a blast.”
Visit Literati’s website for more information on how you can be a part of the Luminaries book clubs or start your child’s monthly book box.