Kelly Starling Lyons is a children's book author whose mission is to transform moments, memories and history into stories of discovery. She is the author of CCBC Choices-honored picture book, One Million Men and Me, and chapter book, NEATE: Eddie's Ordeal. She also has two forthcoming picture books with G.P. Putnam's Sons that celebrate family relationships and freedom. Ellen's Broom debutsJanuary 5, 2012. Tea Cakes for Tosh comes out that fall. She leads a book club for girls that celebrates literary treasures by black children's book creators of today and the past. She's also a member of The Brown Bookshelf (www.thebrownbookshelf.com).
1. So Kelly, what inspired you to write “One Million Men and Me”?
I attended the Million Man March and was transformed by what I saw. So many images touched me – a sea of black men standing shoulder to shoulder, a boy addressing the masses like that was what he was born to do. Then, I saw a little girl walk past the reflecting pool clutching her father’s hand. Her eyes twinkled like diamonds. She looked like a little princess in a sea of kings.
The memory of the men and that sweet girl inspired my picture book, One Million Men and Me. I wanted to share the story of the March with a new generation and celebrate that incredible time in history.
2. What were some of the challenges, if any, you faced with the whole process of getting your book published?
Just Us Books was a wonderful and supportive publisher. My biggest challenge began before I sent them my story for consideration. I felt overwhelmed at first by the idea of writing about something as historic as the Million Man March. I wondered if I could convey the emotion of the day from the point of view of a child. Those worries blocked my creativity for a while. Then, I attended a NC fatherhood conference and saw fathers embracing like brothers and was taken back to the images I remembered at the March. I went home and the draft came out in a matter of hours. I wrote it like a free verse poem. That’s what the March was to me.
3. If you could do it all over again, what are some things you would change or do?
I would worry less. No story is ever perfect. But I feel good about how the book came out. I believe that you’re called to write certain stories for a reason. I’m blessed to have written a children’s book about the Million Man March.
4. I hear that you have more books in the works? Can you tell us a little bit about them?
I have two picture books with Penguin/G.P. Putnam’s Sons on the way. Ellen’s Broom, illustrated by Daniel Minter, debuts January 5, 2012. It’s set during Reconstruction and celebrates freedom, marriage and family relationships. Tea Cakes for Tosh, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, comes out fall 2012. It’s a story that was inspired by my relationship with my grandma whose cookies and stories transported me from her Pittsburgh kitchen to another place and time.
5. As a writer, who are your main influences?
My mom and grandparents are big influences. They cultivated in me a love of the arts, respect for those who came before and the knowledge that I’m here for a reason. To write is a blessing and responsibility. Authors I admire include Jacqueline Woodson, Eleanora E. Tate, Sharon G. Flake, Carole Boston Weatherford, Patricia C. McKissack and Virginia Hamilton. I also owe a lot to Just Us Books. Publishers Wade and Cheryl Hudson (both writers themselves) inspire me.
6. Has writing and becoming an author always been your calling?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child. I flirted with other ideas growing up – being a chemist, a teacher. But I always returned to writing. My mom encouraged creativity. She took my brother and me to children’s theater performances. We watched her write and act. Early on, I got a chance to see how writing allowed a special expression that could move people in amazing ways. I write as a way to give back and share what’s in my heart.
7. Let’s talk multiculturalism. What is it and why is it important in children’s literature?
All children need to see themselves, their experiences and history reflected in the pages of children’s books. That’s what multiculturalism in kid lit champions. It matters because children who feel invisible can tune out. And kids who never learn about cultures other than their own miss learning about the wonderful ways we’re different and alike.
8. Can you share with us a list of some really fabulous multicultural children’s books?
There are so many fantastic books. I could write about this all day. Here are some great contemporary and historical picture books that celebrate different cultures and times – Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day by Tameka Fryer Brown, Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson, I Love My Hair by Natasha Anatasia Tarpley, Mama’s Saris by Pooja Makhijani, Chachaji’s Cup by Uma Krishnaswami, Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, Papa and Me by Arthur Dorros and Before You Were Here, Mi Amor by Samantha Vamos.
9. What were some of your favorite books growing up?
Growing up, I loved A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. As a child, I rarely saw children’s books that featured main characters of color. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was my first. It made a big impression on me.
10. What are some of your favorite books now?
My favorite genre is picture books. Some stories I read over and over are Jazzy Miz Mozetta by Brenda C. Roberts, Coming On Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson, Mabel Dancing by Amy Hest, My Friend Maya Loves to Dance by Cheryl Willis Hudson, Moses by Carole Boston Weatherford, Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia C. McKissack and The Memory String by Eve Bunting.
11. If sweet little Nia, from “One Million Men and Me” could share her thoughts with us today, what would she say?
She would say that she’ll never forget the Million Man March. The love she saw in her daddy’s face and the men around her will stay with her always.
Thanks so much for interviewing me. You asked wonderful questions. It’s an honor to be featured.
Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule Kelly and sharing with us your journey and the importance of multiculturalism in children's literature. :)
And now folks, on to our giveaway!!!!