Kelly Starling Lyons
I still remember the book that inspired me to write for children, Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. It was the first time I saw an African-American girl featured on the cover of a picture book. As I read the story, I was touched in a special way.
Growing up, I rarely saw kids who looked like me as the main characters of children's books. I loved books and treasured every story I read. But after reading Something Beautiful, I knew I had missed something important – reflections of myself. Right then, I decided to add my voice.
In 2004, Just Us Books published my first book, NEATE: Eddie’s Ordeal, a title in their NEATE chapter book series. That story explores the relationship between a thirteen-year-old African-American boy who loves to play basketball and his civil rights veteran dad. A plot point was inspired by the sit-in movement led by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC was founded right here in North Carolina, on the campus of Shaw University. Here are some reviews of NEATE: Eddie's Ordeal.
My next book, One Million Men and Me (Just Us Books, 2007), emerged from memories of attending the Million Man March. As I walked through a sea of men and boys, I saw a father holding hands with his little girl Her eyes sparkled like diamonds. She looked like a princess among kings. Nearly a decade later, I wrote One Million Men and Me, the story of a girl who was with her daddy the day black men made history. It was honored in CCBC Choices 2008, The Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s best-of-the-year list, and is an Accelerated Reader and Scholastic Reading Counts! title.
My two 2012 picture books with G.P. Putnam’s Sons explore African-American history and family relationships. The first, Ellen’s Broom (Jan '12, a Junior Library Guild selection) was inspired by family history research I did in Rockingham County, NC and Henry County, VA. I saw a document that opened up a new world to me. The second, Tea Cakes for Tosh (fall 2012), was inspired by my relationship with my grandma. Her cookies and stories sent me flying from her Pittsburgh kitchen to another place and time. See the trailer for Ellen’s Broom here.
My mission is to transform moments, memories and history into stories of discovery. I love sharing my work with children and adults at schools, libraries, museums, clubs, festivals and conferences. Find out more about my visits here. I also teach children's book workshops on topics such as mining your life for story ideas.
Along with writing stories, I work hard to promote multicultural children’s literature. In Raleigh, I lead a book club where I share literary treasures by black children’s book creators of today and the past. I continue that advocacy as a member of The Brown Bookshelf, a team of authors and illustrators dedicated to raising awareness of the many African-American voices creating books for young readers. Through children’s literature, we can bridge divides, create new understanding, empower, affirm and delight.
As a child, I rarely saw children's books featuring characters of color. I write to help make sure kids today have a different reality.
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Watch the trailer for One Million Men and Me
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