Christle Reed wants Kansas City’s next wave of potential business builders to know they needn’t be bound to a mainstream plot line for wealth and happiness, the entrepreneur-turned-author shared. Her new children’s book about more than a dozen local entrepreneurs could help rewrite that narrative.
“College isn’t the only way to success for kids,” she explained, noting her generation and many that came before were fed the line that the only path to advancement was through higher education.
“And now as a 35-year-old woman who has gotten her bachelor’s and her master’s degree, I know that isn’t true,” said Reed. “So we just want to make sure our kids are exposed to different avenues of success and then find out for themselves what they want to do — not just what society tells them.”
That sentiment is at the heart of Reed’s latest children’s book, “I Can Be Me In KC,” which was written in partnership with Turn the Page KC and features 13 local professionals and their careers in Kansas City. The book — highlighting a clothing designer, two bakers, a KC Current goalie, a dog groomer, a muralist, two farmers, a pediatrician, and a real estate attorney — is expected to be distributed to vendors on Feb. 27. A launch party is planned from 5 p.m to 7 p.m. March 3 at Bliss Books and Wine, 3502 Gillham Road.
In the back of the book, a QR code is set to lead readers to a page with interviews with all the professionals about their career journeys, Reed noted. A classroom curriculum is expected to accompany the book for teachers, she added.
“It really gives kids a blueprint — how to find what they want to do,” Reed continued. “And it really shines light on Kansas City being this place of growth — being this place of prosperity — where whatever it is that you’re into, you can go for it here in Kansas City. I think it turned out to be a really, really cool project.”
Levi Hoffmeier illustrated the book — which was a year-long process — and Adri Guyer coordinated the photos and video interviews.
“I Can Be Me In KC” will be available at all the Made in KC locations and the Turn the Page KC store at the new airport — where a grand opening celebration is planned for Feb. 28 — plus many of the professionals featured in the book will have it available at their businesses.
Reed is also talking to other vendors about carrying the book, she said. Related T-shirts and stuffed animals — that look like the dog in the book — will also be available.
Proceeds from the book and associated merchandise will benefit Turn the Page. Reed worked with its executive director, Dr. Kristin Droege, at Citizens of the World Charter School.
”They are really, really big on decreasing that literacy gap,” Reed explained. “You have that break in the summer when kids are off for two to three months and test scores just kind of plummet. They try to work against that and also try to work with under-resourced communities, where maybe literature that looks like them was not presented. So maybe they’re not interested — which is why we wanted to write this book — or it’s not about topics that interest them.”
While she was the director of communications at Citizens of the World during the pandemic, Reed organized a project called Citizens Connect. On Tuesday nights over Zoom, students would hear from a member of the community about their profession and how they got there.
“When (Droege) left Citizens of the World and moved over to Turn the Page KC, she remembered that and wanted to do something that kind of emulated that but taught kids about the different professions and things that they could reach to,” Reed said about the book’s inspiration and connection to the organization.
Reed’s first book — “Hugs from the Sky” — is about helping kids work their way through grief, inspired by the loss of her dad at the age of 11. She said spent the past two years promoting that book, as well as forming support groups for kids and online forums for parents who are navigating the life-altering waters of loss.
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“‘Hugs from the Sky’ is kind of sad,” she shared. “Nobody is excited to talk about this. Nobody is excited to talk about kids grieving. So it feels good to have a book (‘I Can Be Me In KC’) that I can now promote with a smile on my face. But the first book is still very important. It’s still a very vital tool that I will always promote. But it does feel good to have a happy book that I can promote then, as well.”
Promoting positive opportunities in her hometown also gives Reed joy, she said.
“I’m not sure if this is across Kansas City — or is it just maybe in African American culture? I don’t know — but there’s been this crab in the barrel type of mentality here in Kansas City where you feel like you can’t make it,” she explained. “You feel like there’s blockers, or you feel like the moment you try, somebody pulls you down. That’s kind of what was taught to me as a kid — like you can’t do anything here because people won’t let you. That’s never been the case for me. Everything that I’ve done here in the city, I’ve had nothing but support. So it felt good to say, ‘Yes, Kansas City is a place where you can do absolutely whatever you’d like and you will have success and support. Because that’s just the type of town that we have.”