Day 22: Kelly Starling Lyons

Photo Credit: Melissa R. Campbell

It feels surreal to have a day during 28 Days Later. My focus as part of The Brown Bookshelf is to uplift Black children’s book creators who fall under the radar, who have paved the way, who are making a difference. I’m blessed to call many of them friends. I stand on the shoulders of so many Black authors and illustrators and stand side by side with countless others. They continue to inspire my work.

You know that quote you see on social media sometimes about people speaking your name in rooms you’re not in. I can testify to the power of that. Talent, hard work and determination are essential. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten an opportunity, because someone mentioned me. That’s a privilege I don’t take for granted. I try to pay that forward as much as I can.

Today is a double feature. Please check out my post and the one on my friend and soror Gwendolyn Hooks.

Journey to Publication

This is my 20th anniversary as a children’s book author! I’m grateful for every person who has helped me on this journey – family, friends, my agent, editors, educators, librarians and so many more. What a gift to do what I love.

My road to publication started in elementary school when I saw the book Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. That was my first time seeing a girl who looked like me on the cover of a book. In her eyes, I saw that I mattered, my story mattered. That changed my life. I didn’t realize it then, but that book planted the seed of a dream in my heart.

That seed was watered when I worked for Ebony magazine and saw beautiful picture books like Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet, Visiting Day by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome and The Bat Boy and His Violin by Gavin Curtis, illustrated by E.B. Lewis I felt called to add my voice. That seed was watered when I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), took classes on children’s writing, found community and stacked up rejections and a few encouraging notes. That seed was watered when Ebony photo editor and friend Basil O. Phillips took me to my first American Library Association Conference in Chicago and introduced me to Wade and Cheryl Hudson of Just Us Books. They would not only give me a start as a children’s book author, but a publishing family and literary home. That seed was watered when I held my first book, NEATE: Eddie’s Ordeal, in my hands and I bloomed into a children’s book author. All these years and books later, I think about that beginning and smile.

Back Story of Ty’s Travels: Showtime! 

Before I get into the back story of Showtime!, I need to share how Ty’s Travels came to be. I was on a chapter book panel at one of my favorite conferences, Kweli: The Color of Children’s Literature. During that session, I shared how I say yes to creative challenges that resonate, help me stretch and further my goal of writing stories that inspire and reflect kids. During a break, two HarperCollins editors talked to me about easy readers. Was I interested in giving them a try? I said . . . You guessed it, “Yes!”

That started the journey that led to Ty. I wanted to create a series that celebrated Black boy joy, showed the strength of the Black family and focused on imagination. I didn’t have to look far for story ideas. I drew inspiration from my children, boys in the book club I facilitated, kids I met at schools, festivals and libraries. My brainstorming led to endless possibilities: How kids turn boxes into flights of fancy. How they visualize themselves mastering challenges and help each other succeed. How a family can create a world of adventure. I started to write.

Editor Tamar Mays helped me learn the ins and outs of easy readers. Then, she paired me with amazing illustrator Niña Mata who brings it every time. The way she depicts Ty and his family is full of joy, love and intention. Every spread she creates warms my heart.

Showtime!, the seventh book in our series, was inspired by my childhood. I grew up in a family with music all around. We sang in church. R & B tunes pumped from the stereo system at home and in the car. My mom and her siblings performed in bands. I took piano lessons and proudly played synthesizer in my middle school jazz ensemble. There’s something about music that creates magic.

In this story, Ty is having fun with instruments, but realizes something is missing. What does he do? You have to read to find out.

Benefit of Being a Member of The Brown Bookshelf

The Brown Bookshelf is family. This is the 17th year of 28 Days Later. I’m proud of us for creating something special. The benefits of being part of this team are endless. We are there for each through publishing highs and lows. We brainstorm ways to help empower and inspire our creative community. We care about each other. That’s everything to me.

About Kelly

Kelly Starling Lyons is a founding member of The Brown Bookshelf, teaching artist and award-winning author of more than 30 books for young readers. Her mission is to center Black heroes, celebrate family, friendship and heritage and show all kids the stories they hold inside. Among her acclaimed picture books are Caldecott Honor winner Going Down Home with Daddy, Christopher Award winner Tiara’s Hat Parade and Sing a Song: How Lift Every Voice & Sing Inspired Generations and My Hands Tell a Story, Bank Street Best Books. Kelly is also the author of three popular series – chapter books starring her characters Jada Jones and Miles Lewis and the Ty’s Travels easy readers which won a Geisel Honor for Zip, Zoom. Her nonfiction titles include two titles in Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted series, chapter books on Dr. Dorothy I. Height and Mrs. Coretta Scott King. Learn more at

You can follow me on:

Instagram  – @kelstarly

Contact me:

Please also follow and support the outstanding authors and illustrators we’ve featured. It’s been said that buying a book is a political act. We need those actions now more than ever.

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