Among the first things award-winning author and founding member of the The Brown Bookshelf Kelly Starling Lyons did when she knew she wanted to write children’s books was study the craft, especially after realizing her seasoned background in print journalism was a different style of writing compared to children’s literature. “Though I was trained as a feature writer, and, though I had written poetry for fun and other kinds of pieces over the years,” the Ty’s Travel’s (HarperCollins, September 1, 2020) author shares with So Booking Cool, “children’s writing is its own unique art form you need to study.”
So she joined the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, a nonprofit organization that acts as a network for everyone involved with literature for youth such as writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, agents, librarians, educators, and booksellers, etc. She also educated herself with, well, books. A few years later, she began querying her manuscripts and faced another realization about being an author.
“It really was a period of study, trying, revising, and having a lot of faith because this is not a field for people who don’t believe that they can make it happen,” the former Ebony writer says. “You have to kind of steel yourself for the rejection and see that as just getting you closer to a yes. Thinking about how you can make the story stronger, how can you polish it, how can you serve your characters better. And so, I kind of saw it almost like a second master degree to really immerse myself in the art and craft of writing for kids.”
The first releases of the Ty’s Travels series All Aboard! and Zip, Zoom! illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Nina Mata (I Promise by LeBron James) are Lyons’ debut easy-readers. At her core, Lyons has always created stories that center Black children, and her new series, which tributes Black boy joy, is no exception. “This is for kids just learning how to read,” says the author. “So it means a lot to me that Black children who are learning how to read can see a little boy who reminds them of themselves or someone who they know and family that looks like them, doing things that they care about; and also for other kids to see their friends, people in their community, if they haven’t had any interaction with Black children before…this kind of counters some of the negative images that sadly are pushed sometimes in the media.”
She continues, “I want my books, and those Black friends of mine, I think all of us are working towards making sure that you see us as we really are, as we see ourselves, the full spread, and the full reflection of the different ways that we live and that we love, and how we celebrate who we are.”
Lyons, who has written nearly 20 books total, has been honored with more than 70 distinctions for her contributions to children’s publishing. Her 2019 picture book, Going Down Home With Daddy illustrated by Daniel Minter, whose work for the book earned him the Coretta Scott King Illustrator award, garnered more than 20 honors alone including the Caldecott Honor, multiple starred reviews, and Best Picture book selections from Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal, to name a few. The book, Lyons says, is a tribute to family reunions, connection to home and land, and heritage.
Check out the interview to learn more about Lyons including the books and authors who were pivotal in her journey to becoming an author; her insight on “mentor text”; the proudest moments of her career so far; the next book in her Jada Jones series; journaling as a child; the best and worst advice she received about writing and her advice for Black authors; whether she self-edits her work or prefers the editor to handle it; the difference between writing a series and standalone; her foray into co-founding The Brown Bookshelf and thoughts on similar organizations; and more! For more information, visit Lyons’ official website.