Day 29: Meet the BBS — Kelly Starling Lyons

The Journey

I still remember the book that called me to write for children — Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet. Looking at that sweet cover of a smiling girl with the same kind of pigtails I used to wear moved me. I was an adult and that was my first time seeing a picture book featuring an African-American child.

Right then, I knew that I wanted to create stories that shared every-day moments and history that put African-American children in the center instead of the margins. I’m so grateful for editors at Just Us Books believing in me. They guided me and published my first two books, NEATE: Eddie’s Ordeal and One Million Men and Me.

I wasn’t looking for a story when I came across the cohabitation register that inspired my latest picture book, Ellen’s Broom (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), illustrated by Daniel Minter. I was researching family history in a North Carolina library. But maybe the story was looking for me.

I don’t believe it was chance that after telling a mentor at the Writers Workshop at Chautauqua about the record I found and the jumping the broom tradition, he encouraged me to find the story within. I think some stories are waiting to be told. I feel so blessed that this story chose me.  

Like Just Us Books, agents at Dwyer & O’Grady and then editors at G.P. Putnam’s Sons believed in me too. Putnam published Ellen’s Broom and bought two more of my stories. In December, Tea Cakes for Tosh, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, will debut. Shortly after, my picture book with BBS member Don Tate will hit shelves. So grateful for everyone who has helped me along this journey.

Being part of The Brown Bookshelf is one way I give back. I love shining a light on the wonderful authors and illustrators of color creating stories for kids. They inspire me to keep writing and pushing.

The Buzz on Ellen’s Broom

[youtube=]A Junior Library Guild selection

“Lyons’s homespun and heartfelt dialogue combine with Minter’s exquisite use of line, color, and composition to produce a story that radiates deep faith and strong family bonds.”

— School Library Journal

 “A spirited story filled with the warmth of a close family celebrating a marriage before God and the law.”


“A heartwarming story . . . Daniel Minter’s vividly colored block prints are brilliant.”

— USA Today

“Set during Reconstruction, this story bursts with one family’s joy as Mama and Papa, both former slaves, legalize their marriage . . . Minter’s vibrant, hand-painted block prints, filled with period detail, nicely enhance this testament to remembering the trials of the past and celebrating hardwon freedom.”

— Booklist

“Ellen’s Broom is entertaining and delightful. Enriched with amazing illustrations . . . this book celebrates the meaningful history of weddings for the African American community. This articulate, bright and cheerful story is a must for all families to read.”

— Black Bride and Groom magazine

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