Characters Who Look Like Me

10 10 2010

I’m thrilled to have Kelly Starling Lyons here today as part of her blog tour leading up to the 15th anniversary of the Million Man March. I asked Kelly to tell us about her experiences growing up when there was a dearth of African-American characters in books. Here’s her reply:

As a child, I loved to read. Most days, you could find me snuggled somewhere with a book in my hands. I couldn’t wait to travel through the magic of stories into other lives and lands. But on my literary journeys, one important thing was missing – people who looked like me.

In my early years, I remember reading just one children’s book with an African-American character, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Though that book was set in Depression-era Mississippi, it spoke to me in a special way. For the first time, I was reading a story through the eyes of a girl whose skin color was the same as mine. Though I hadn’t realized it until I read that story, that was something I hungered for.

I was a grown-up writer when I rediscovered children’s books. At Ebony magazine, I wrote feature articles and chose books to showcase in the Bookshelf column. One day, I opened a package from a publisher and my life changed. I saw a picture book called Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. Entranced, I read page after page until I reached the end. Then, I smiled, stroked the cover and read it again.

The story takes you on a walk with an African-American girl searching for “something beautiful” in her city neighborhood. She visits a laundromat, fruit stand and other places and learns what others consider beautiful. Then, she decides to create beauty herself by cleaning up her community. In the end, she learns who her mother considers the most beautiful person of all.

That book, just 32 pages, sent me through so many emotions. The story was told with such economy and grace. It reminded me of everything I loved about children’s literature and more.

That was the start of my mission to write for kids. Seeing picture books, middle-grade and young adult novels with African-American children as the main characters fed something inside my soul. I knew I had to add my voice.

I began writing for children because I wanted them to see their faces and hear their voices in stories. I began writing for children to help them discover parts of the world and themselves. I began writing for children to give back.

I know what it feels like to never see yourself, your family, your traditions or your history reflected in the pages of books. I write so kids today have a different reality. I love going into schools and sharing One Million Men and Me and hearing a child say, “That story reminds me of a trip I took with my dad,”or “That character looks just like me.”

As part of The Brown Bookshelf, a team that’s dedicated to raising awareness of the many African-Americans creating children’s books for kids, I continue the mission to help kids see themselves in the pages of books. Our signature initiative, 28 Days Later, shines the spotlight each February on African-American children’s book authors and illustrators who are under-the-radar or veterans of the industry. We’re taking nominations through the end of October.

Thanks so much for sharing a part of yourself with us, Kelly. It’s wonderful to know that kids growing up now have some fabulous choices of books with characters who look like them. Check out all the terrific titles at The Brown Bookshelf, including Kelly’s, of course. Her One Million Men and Me has received multiple awards.

Along with the blog tour, Kelly will be heading to several live events (more about those on the Susquehanna Writers blog):

October 15 – 4:30 p.m. Reading  & Meet the Author event at All Booked Up Used Books & Collectibles

October 16 – 15th ANNIVERSARY OF THE MILLION MAN MARCH — 11 a.m. Storytime & Reading  Hour at International Civil Rights Center & Museum

October 18 – 6 p.m. March Anniversary Program at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture





Public Speaking: Worse than Death?

18 04 2010

More people say they fear public speaking more than death. Is that true? And why is it authors get asked to speak in public when their forte is the written word? My post on the subject has been moved to the Susquehanna Writers blog.





Sunshine Award

17 03 2010

Wow! I got a sunshine award from Cate Masters, a terrific writer who has a great blog you should check out.

What this means is that not only does she think I have a blog to enjoy, but she’s spreading the sunshine she received. Now I get to do the same.

I get to pick 12 blogs I love to read and let them know it. Here’s my list:

Wolfy Chicks

Leap Books

BonnieBlogsGreen

Market My Words

Lily Stone

YA Edge

Susquehanna Writers

The Porch Swing Chronicles

Keli Gwyn

Middlewood Journal

LJ Patton

Through the Toll Booth

And for those bloggers, here’s the list of rules for passing along this award:

According to the guidelines, I will:
Put the logo on your blog in my post.
Pass the award onto 12 bloggers.
Link the nominees within this post.
Let the nominees know they have received this award by commenting on their blogs.
Share the love and link to the person from whom you received this award.





Big Date

27 11 2009

The Susquehanna Writers, of which I’m an honorary member, have been reaching out to support area Indie bookstores.  We gave out gift baskets to two Indie bookstores this fall, and now we’re banding together for a group booksigning at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, PA, on December 19, 2009. A large group of authors will have books for sale and will autograph them for you. From romance to history, from mystery to self-help, from thrillers to YA; you’ll find something to please everyone on your holiday gift list. And if these books aren’t enough to entice you (though they certainly should be), the Midtown Scholar offers the largest array of rare and used books between New York and Chicago. They have more than ONE MILLION secondhand and out-of-print books in all fields.

Need a gift for that hard-to-please person? Consider a book. It’s a gift they’ll treasure for a lifetime.

If you want to know where and when to show up, here are the additional details:

3-5 pm, December 19, 2009

1302 North Third Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102
(717) 236-2665

And I’ll be there to sign copies of Rihanna and Summer Lovin‘. Feel free to drop by and get your copy signed if you already have one, or pick up some as gifts for the teens in your life.