Posted by: nancyisanders | February 23, 2011

Author Interview: Kelly Starling Lyons

Meet Author Kelly Starling Lyons!
Web site: Kelly Starling Lyons: Children’s Book Author
Blog: Kuumba

Kelly Starling Lyons is a children’s book author and freelance writer whose mission is to transform moments, memories and history into stories of discovery. Her books include One Million Men and Me (Just Us Books), a picture book about the Million Man March, and chapter book, NEATE: Eddie’s Ordeal (Just Us Books). She has two forthcoming picture books with Penguin/G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Her articles and essays have appeared in many publications including Ebony magazine, The News & Observer, Christian Science Monitor and books in the Chicken Soup series. A wife and mom of two, Kelly lives in North Carolina where she leads a book club for African-American girls.

Featured book:
One Million Men and Me

Hardcover picture book, $16.95
By Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Peter Ambush
Published by Just Us Books

The Million Man March was a movement like no other. It brought black men together for a day of inspiration and empowerment and it captured the attention of media across the U.S. and the world. Now, this heartwarming picture book shares the story of the March in a new light. In One Million Men and Me experience the strength, unity, determination and legacy of that powerful day through the eyes of a little girl who was with her daddy the day black men made history.

CCBC Choices 2008, Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s best-of-the-year list

Q: Describe a highlight for you personally while you were writing this book.
One of the highlights of the writing process was when the draft for One Million Men and Me came together. I had attended the Million Man March a decade earlier. To turn that experience into a picture book manuscript felt amazing.

A highlight of the publication journey was holding the finished book in my hands. Looking at the cover made me feel so proud. Peter Ambush did a beautiful job. I felt really blessed that Just Us Books published my story.

Q: How do you hope to influence today’s young readers through this book?
I wrote One Million Men and Me to pass on the story of the Million Man March to a new generation. Sadly, many children have never heard of the March even though it took place just 13 years ago. I hope this book will inspire them to read more about it and talk to men in their community who attended and are living history. I hope it will make them feel proud of this day when a sea of black men stood together in purpose and peace.

Another hope I have is for my book to encourage children to celebrate fathers and father-figures. One Million Men and Me explores the story of a girl and her dad at the Million Man March. But there are men everywhere who play a special role in young people’s lives. They don’t always make the headlines. But their presence matters. Just Us Books created a great essay contest to launch One Million Men and Me that asked children to write about the best moment spent with fathers and father-figures. The entries were wonderful. You can read the winners at

Q: How long did it take to go from first idea to book contract? Please describe the process.
In 1995, I attended the Million Man March as a journalist and was transformed by what I saw. So many images touched me — a sea of Black men spread like a quilt across the Washington Mall, brothers of all beliefs and backgrounds hugging and praying as the voices of speakers soared around them, an amazing youth 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 daddy’s hand. Her eyes, big as quarters, glittered like diamonds. She looked like a little princess among kings.

A decade later, I started working on the draft of One Million Men and Me, a picture book story that would show the March through the eyes of a little girl who was there with her daddy the day black men made history. I struggled at first to get my idea on paper. I tried to write it as a narrative, but it wouldn’t flow that way. I believed in the story, but felt frustrated and put it aside for a while. Then, I attended a fatherhood conference in NC where I live. As I looked at the beautiful black men around me who clasped hands and worked together, I was taken back to the March. In a flash, I remembered the images that made me hold my head high and the poetry of that incredible moment in history. I went home and the draft came together in a matter of hours.

Just Us Books offered me a contract on my book later that year.

Q: What advice would you give to a children’s author trying to land a first book contract?
I would share the words I first heard from a faculty member at the wonderful Writers Workshop at Chautauqua: “Write the story only you can tell.” Each of us has moments, memories and experiences that make us who we are. Draw from that well when searching for stories to share. And once you write that story, believe it will find a home.

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