Kelly Cates: Deputy Director of Promising Pages

Promising Pages knows the importance of getting books into the hands of kids. Reading is fundamental in education, and it’s difficult to read at grade level without adequate access to books. With a small but mighty team of four staff members, Promising Pages has served over 34,000 kids in the Charlotte, NC area. As Deputy Director, Kelly runs the marketing, operations, programming, and helps with fundraising. Her favorite part, however, is reading with children and teaching them the strategies of how to make books fun.

How do your programs get kids interested in reading?


There are so many distractions to reading these days: gaming, TikTok, cellphones. We have to start with education for children and teachers. Teachers need to know how to teach kids to read for fun. If a child picks up a book that they think is cool and interesting, it will later translate to them choosing more complex texts. The key concept in our program is to let kids choose and not judge them for their choices. Modeling behavior is also important, so we bring books to adults as well so that their kids can see them read. We always tell parents and teachers to challenge kids to find their own books and to not use reading as punishment. A lot of our programming is giving kids the tools to learn that reading isn’t a chore.


Can you explain what a book desert is and how it affects literacy rates?


A book desert is an area where there are little to no books in the homes of families. There are book deserts all over the US, about 60% of the US is in a book desert. Charlotte has an estimated 60,000 children that have 10 or less books in their home, and that doesn’t mean they are age appropriate books. Libraries and bookstores are helpful, but they are few and far between in low income areas. We figure out what kind of book access point works best for the particular area, because each place has a unique need. If you don’t have access to books, you can’t practice reading at home, and education is generally harder without reading. It’s a key to upward mobility. Books are a necessary resource for kids, so we focus on improving access and getting kids excited about it.


What changes do you hope to see in the children’s book industry?


5 years ago, there were very few diverse book options and people of color weren’t represented. The industry has come a long way, but there’s still plenty of work to do. Getting girls excited about STEM is really important and we need more books that are catered to that topic. As book consumers, we have to continue to support our Black, Brown, and Asian authors to ensure they get published. We need meaningful, artistic, diverse books that are of high-interest to elementary kids. Diverse books are not coming to us organically through donations, so we request those specifically from our community.


What are the benefits of keeping Promising Pages a local nonprofit?


We’ll always stay in Charlotte since this work is really dependent on the community. The way it works here might not be the same way it works in another state. We have to understand where the pockets of poverty are in our geographic area. There’s a lot of tracking of where the books go so we can see what areas are being left out and how we can best serve them. We’ve expanded into our surrounding counties, so we are now a regional book bank. We have a multi-channel distribution method that helps over 200 local nonprofits by providing books. Places like affordable housing, childcare centers, and tutoring centers are all extensions of our distribution arm.