Kelly Starling Lyons, a proud native of Pittsburgh, PA, started writing as a child. Inspired by her mother to express herself through the arts, she watched as her mother acted in local theaters and write plays for their church. She wrote her first poem in second grade. It was about the beauty of the color black.
As she got older her love of writing got more serious as she knew it would be apart of who she was. She began writing plays and poems and even started buying Writer’s Digest on her visits to the bookstore.
One Million Men and Me, a great book for children 5-10, is her first picture book but her second children’s book. Her first being NEATE: Eddie’s Ordeal.
To start the interview let’s find out about Nia, the main character.
Can you tell us a little bit about Nia and her day at the Million Man March?
My main character Nia was inspired by a little girl I saw at the March walking past the Reflecting Pool with her father. Her eyes were big and twinkling. To me, she looked like a princess in a sea of kings. When I left the March, I wondered what the day was like for that little girl. What moments would she would always remember? Those wonderings led to what I featured in One Million Men and Me. Nia’s day, like the one I imagined the little girl had, was filled with the sights, feelings and sounds of the March.
One of my favorite parts of the book is when you wrote:
Like a quilt of moving pieces, we walked together, singing songs that made my heart dance.
We stood tall and proud as mighty oaks, the men, Daddy and me.
They came to make changes, came to make themselves and their communities better.
And I was their Princess, there to see the dream of this day come true.
I squeezed Daddy’s hand as the view stretched before us – million Black men, one million Black Kings.
Happiness glowed in Daddy’s eyes. Tears shone too.
Through Nia’s eyes we can see the beauty and strength of that day. Can you tell us how important it was for you to show that through her eyes?
Thanks so much! When the Million Man March happened, we heard a lot about what it meant to the men who were there. But I wanted show that it had a powerful impact on kids too. When I wrote the story, I imagined what a little girl would notice.
Maybe the fluffy clouds sailing above her would have looked like cotton candy. Maybe the tall men standing all around would have looked like mighty oak trees. Maybe she heard the sound of African drums and wanted to dance. By showing the March through Nia’s eyes, I hoped to give children a view of what the day was like and pass on the story to a new generation.
We have all made wishes and on that day Nia made a wish, and I know it’s not told in the book but can you give us a little hint on what Nia wished for that day?
The peace and beauty of the March was so incredible. I think Nia wished that every day people could get along like men did on that day. I didn’t share her wish, because I wanted children to put a little of themselves in the story. It’s a chance for them to guess what Nia wished and what they would have wished had they been there.
By the end of the book, when Nia boards the bus with her daddy, we can feel that she knew history was being made. If Nia could talk to us right now, what do you think she would tell the children of the day was the best part about that history-making day?
She would say that the best part was witnessing history with her father. Nia looks in her daddy’s face for clues about what the day means. When she sees his eyes shine with tears and watches him nod and smile at every man he meets, she gets a sense of how much the March means to him. Being there with him makes her feel special. She’s part of something important.
When I go into schools, I ask kids to tell me about memorable days they’ve spent with fathers or father-figures. They may not know about the March before reading the book, but they may know what it feels like to go someplace special with someone they love.
Wow! I think that’s great. Those special days are very powerful for children as well as for adults.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about One Million Men And Me?
One of my favorite memories of sharing One Million Men and Me was being part of the Multicultural Children’s Book Festival at the Kennedy Center. I got a chance to share the book in the city where the story was born. I met men who took their children to the March. I met women who brought their sons. They told me I got the story right. That meant everything to me.
Also, I’d like to share that I have coloring pages, word scrambles and other fun printables that go along with the book. Kids and parents can find them here.
This is a must have book for children. Where can it be purchased?
Are you working on any other books?
Yes, I’m always working on something. I have two picture books with G.P. Putnam’s Sons that debut next year. Ellen’s Broom, illustrated by Daniel Minter, comes out January 5, 2012. It’s set during Reconstruction and celebrates African-American history and family relationships. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon.com.
Tea Cakes for Tosh, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, debuts that fall. It was inspired by my relationship with my grandma.
Where can people find more information about you and your books?
The best place to learn more about me is my website: www.kellystarlinglyons.com. Also, if people want to get updates about my writing and recommendations of good multicultural children’s book to check out, please join my FaceBook author page: www.facebook.com/kellystarlinglyons.
Well thank you Kelly for taking out the time to talk with me about your book One Million Men and Me. I wish you much success and look forward to reading your upcoming books.
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