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Author Kelly Starling Lyons gives a window into her writing journey and celebrates new and classic multicultural children's books. Her books include picture book, One Million Men and Me (Just Us Books, forthcoming October 2007) and chapter book, NEATE: Eddie's Ordeal (Just Us Books). Kelly lives with her husband and daughter in North Carolina where she facilitates a book club for African-American girls.
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1. Draft Trailer - Tea Cakes

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2. Appreciation Video for Ellen's Broom Launch Party

Hey Everyone,

This file is too large for my new blog site. So I'm posting my Ellen's Broom launch party appreciation video here for you to check out. Thank you to everyone who shared links, sent notes of encouragement, tweeted, liked, posted comments, attended the launch and purchased copies. I feel so blessed.

Please continue to spread the word about Ellen's Broom and share it with folks you know. Thank you! Your support means a lot.

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3. Draft Trailer

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4. My Blog Has Moved

My blog has a new home - http://www.kuumba.wordpress.com/. Please visit me there. October 5, I'm kicking off my two-week virtual tour in celebration of the 15th anniversary of the Million Man March. There will be interviews, guest posts, notes from kids, giveaways and more. Thank you for your support.

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5. The Kind of Man He Was

By Kevin Price as told to his sister Kelly Starling Lyons

While the women of our family slept in pre-dawn darkness, Grand-dad and I grabbed buckets and rods and slipped into his ’81 brown Zephyr station wagon. Rumbling up and down the hills of our Pittsburgh neighborhood, we were off on an adventure just for the guys. We sat side by side on the front seat as the music of Grand-dad’s oldies filled the car. When we pulled up to a creek behind a gas station, soft light spread across the sky. We were there. I stepped out and waited for the magic to start.

Wearing a trucker hat and overalls, Grand-dad transformed into a master fisherman. His mahogany face glowed as he dipped his worn bucket into the green water and slowly pulled it up. Like a kid in awe of a magician, I gazed wide-eyed at the hundreds of minnows that swam inside.

Back then, I was just a 9-year-old boy happy to be spending time with grandpa. But years later, memories like that one would mean much more. They were lessons in living and manhood. They were touchstones that anchored me in values and faith. And one day, those moments with Grand-dad would save me from myself.

Every Father's Day, I think of Grand-dad’s hand in my life. Some boys look to their biological fathers for direction. I had my mom's dad. Where my father’s presence was scarce, my Grand-dad was my rock. He imparted wisdom like he sowed seeds in his garden. He planted the knowledge and waited for it to sprout.

Any time we spent together was an opportunity to teach. While we skinned channel cat, he schooled me in the importance of learning new things. “You can play anytime,” he would say in the accent that revealed traces of his West Virginia childhood, “crack open a book and learn something.” As I watched him work on car engines in the yard, he would tell me how important it was to learn a trade: “That’s something no one can take away.” When I would trail him around our backyard garden and help him tend to the tomatoes and green beans, he would tell me about enjoying God’s blessings.

Then Grand-dad got sick. His pecan-colored skin turned pale. His hair, always dyed jet black, showed its true silver. I watched his body weaken and his fight for living slip away. Ten days before my 14th birthday, my grand-dad died of prostate cancer. Losing him was like losing my compass. Everywhere I turned, I was lost. Not only did I no longer have a father-figure in my life, I felt abandoned and alone. Suddenly, I was left to be a man on my own. Or at least that's what I thought.

I turned my back on the lessons Grand-dad taught me and started making bad choices. I stopped going to church. My birthdays, because they fell right after yearly anniversaries of Grand-dad's death, were painful reminders he was gone. So I stopped celebrating them.

One day, I looked at myself in the mirror and saw someone I didn't know. My eyes looked cold and hard. My heart was ice. I knew I was at a turning point. I could keep following the path I was on and end up defeated or dead. Or I could choose the road to hope. Right then, my grandma said something that shook me to the bone: Your Grand-dad would be heartsick to see you like this. Softly at first and then louder, I could hear his voice in my ears: Learn a trade. Crack open a book. Be a man who makes his family proud. The lessons Grand-dad taught me as a child returned to lead me when I needed them most.

Turning things around was a process. I stopped hanging out. I started learning an automotive trade. Slowly, purposefully, I started to

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6. Celebrating Dads

Too often, we just hear stories about dads who aren't there. But there are so many fathers who are. They are teachers, comforters, heroes, friends. They are protectors, motivators, providers. And they're all around us -- even in the world of children's books.

Forget about fairytale perfection. These storybook dads are the real deal - strong black men with individual experiences and concerns but with a shared devotion to their children.

Here are some picture books that celebrate African-American fathers and father figures:


The Bat Boy and His Violin (Simon & Schuster), a poignant story of a boy whose father -- coach of a Negro League team - makes him bat boy and comes to appreciate his special musical gift, written by Gavin Curtis, illustrated by E.B. Lewis.

I Dream of Trains (Simon & Schuster), an eloquent tale of a boy who dreams of riding the rails with his hero, engineer Casey Jones, and discovers his own father is a hero too, written by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Loren Long.

In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall (Lee & Low), a collection of poems saluting black fathers, by Javaka Steptoe. In this moving volume, rising and renowned children's book authors such as Carole Boston Weatherford and Angela Johnson share the many ways fathers touch our lives.

Daddy Goes To Work (Little, Brown Young Readers), a sweet tale of a girl accompanying her father to his job and getting a peek at his working world, written by Jabari Asim, illustrated by Aaron Boyd.

A Day with Daddy (Teaching Resources), a lyrical look at a boy's weekly visit with his dad, written by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Nicole Tagdell.

One Million Men and Me (Just Us Books), a special view of the Million Man March through the eyes of a girl who was with her daddy the day black men made history, written by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Peter Ambush.


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7. Recommended Reading

Sometimes months pass before I discover that One Million Men and Me has made a recommended reading list. So I celebrate every time I see it included. I'm grateful to the librarians and teachers who share my book in this special way.

Here are some of the places where it has appeared:

CCBC Choices 2008

New York Public Library's The Struggle for Civil Rights: Books for Children, K-6


Baltimore County Public Library's African American Kids' Books

Detroit Public Library's 2009 African American Booklist

Cincinnati Public Schools: 2009-2010 Suggested Books for Free-Time Reading

Kent District Library - Recommended Reading Lists for Kids: Celebrate Black History Month!

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8. June Book Club

I hope you and your children enjoyed the books we read for April. Here are the selections for the June book club. Please share what you think in the comments and post a review on Amazon.com. Thanks for your support:

For lower elementary:

Yesterday I Had the Blues by Jeron Frame, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Black Magic by Dinah Johnson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

For upper elementary:

Ruby & the Booker Boys by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton

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9. April Book Club Selections

I hope you and your children enjoyed the books we read for February. Here are the selections for the April book club. Please let me know what you think.

Lower Elementary:

Clothes I Love to Wear by Cheryl Willis Hudson, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Aunt Flossie's Hats (and Crabcakes Later) by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard, illustrated by James Ransome.

Upper Elementary:

The Hat That Wore Clara B. by Melanie Turner-Denstaedt, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Meet Danitra Brown by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

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10. One Million Men and Me Blog Tour

This fall marks the 15th anniversary of the Million Man March. I'll never forget the beauty of a sea of black men gathered in purpose and peace. Witnessing that historic event and seeing a little girl there with her daddy inspired me to write my picture book, One Million Men and Me (Just Us Books). The book, illustrated by Peter Ambush, celebrates the March and fathers and father-figures.

Since my book's debut, it has been my mission to share the story with as many kids as I can. I've participated in national events like the Multicultural Book Festival at the Kennedy Center and African American Children's Book Fair, presented at regional conferences and given author visits at many libraries and schools.

But in celebration of the upcoming anniversary -- October 16 -- I'd like to share One Million Men and Me in a new way. Beginning Oct. 1 and ending on the 16th, I will do Skype visits into classrooms, participate in blog Q&As, feature letters I've received from kids, offer new printable activities, giveaways and more.

Please let me know if you'd like me to consider your child's school or library for a free virtual visit. I'll choose 5-10 schools, libraries and/or organizations. I'd also love invitations to visit blogs to talk about One Million Men and Me.

Often when I ask young people if they've heard of the Million Man March, they shake their heads no. But I hope after hearing One Million Men and Me, a part of that important day comes to life. Like the 1963 March on Washington, we need to remember the Million Man March, a brilliant event where black men made history.

Please join my FaceBook author page for updates on the blog tour, multicultural book recommendations and news about my writing. Thanks so much for your support.

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11. Saving Ruby

A wonderful chapter book series is in danger. Ruby & the Booker Boys by Derrick Barnes features a beautiful, smart and talented African-American girl and her loving family. Read more to find out why Ruby is so special and how we can help her stick around. The post includes a powerful testimony from Ruby creator, Derrick Barnes: http://thebrownbookshelf.com/2010/03/18/saving-ruby/

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12. My Mama Needs Me

I love going to the library. Taking my kids for storytime is an excuse for me to find new treasures and to re-read old favorites. Last week, I discovered something amazing.

I was browsing the shelves and saw the children's book, My Mama Needs Me (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1983) by Mildred Pitts Walter, illustrated by Pat Cummings. I flipped through the pages and was drawn in by the story of a big brother wanting to help his mama care for his brand-new baby sister. But I didn't really read it until I came home.

As I explored the story with my daughter, I knew this book was special. There's a wonderful picture of Daddy watching in pride as Mama snuggles their little girl and big bro Jason puts a finger to his lips and tells friends to shhh. Then, Daddy goes back to work and it's just Jason, Mama and baby at home. Jason wants to help and turns down going outside to play and a taste of cookies from a neighbor just in case he's needed. Just when he feels he'll never get a chance to pitch in, he hears his sister crying and rushes inside. But Mommy is already taking care of the feeding too. That's when I saw a picture that really touched me.

Cummings has an illustration of a black mom breast-feeding her baby girl. This is the first time I've seen a picture book illustration of a mom of any race breast-feeding. In the picture, Jason looks on in wonder and delight. When she falls asleep at Mommy's breast, Jason gently rubs her ear and she starts nursing again.

I won't share much more because I hope you'll check out this wonderful book. But I'll just say Jason learns that he's needed and discovers what he needs too.

A quick Internet search revealed that Cummings won the Coretta Scott King Award for illustration for My Mama Needs Me. I understand why. Simply beautiful.

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13. America's Black Founders

When most people learn about the founding fathers of America, they rarely hear about the black patriots who paved the way for this country's greatness. Nancy I. Sanders introduces young people to heroes and sheroes who are too often overlooked. In her new book, America's Black Founders: Revolutionary Heroes and Early Leaders (Chicago Review Press, 2010), she celebrates trailblazers like Prince Hall, Phillis Wheatley, James Armistead Lafayette and James Forten and includes wonderful activities to help the period come to life.

Kuumba is a stop on her virtual book tour. Here she talks about her new book, the importance of people of all races celebrating black history and future projects:
Q: You’ve written several books about African-American history. How did you become interested in that topic?

A: I first started researching African-American history when a publisher requested a proposal on this topic. As I read through the books I got from the library, I was surprised that I had never heard of these events or individuals before. They weren’t in textbooks I’d had in school when I was a child. And I didn’t see this information in the textbooks my sons had in school. I became determined to share what I’d found with others.

Q: What does it mean to you to celebrate black history?

A: I love celebrating black history all year long. For instance, my family and I were traveling back to PA to visit my family a couple of years ago. We specifically arranged our schedule so that we were in Philadelphia on Juneteenth. We joined a small crowd waiting for the Richard Allen Museum to open early that morning. A reporter was there and interviewed all of us asking us why we chose to visit the museum as part of Juneteenth. After that, we went to the African American Museum of Philadelphia where a Juneteenth celebration was being held. We heard an actor portray Frederick Douglass and give one his speeches. It was so powerful and inspiring to us all! I try to learn more and also share what I’ve learned about African American history in as many ways as possible all through the year. In fact, I have a website where I’m inviting teachers and classrooms all across America to help celebrate African American history all year long. It’s at http://www.50niftystatestour.wordpress.com/

Q: What do you hope young people take away from your books?

A: I want today’s youth to be proud about these heroes from reading about America’s Black Founding Fathers and Mothers in my book. I want them to be inspired to follow the example of these amazing men and women who helped found our nation.

Q: Your latest, America’s Black Founders: Revolutionary Heroes and Early Leaders explores the lives of African-Amer

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14. 28 Days Later Campaign Starts Today

Happy Monday, Everyone,

Please join us at The Brown Bookshelf as we celebrate some of the best under-the-radar and vanguard black children's books authors and illustrators. Our 28 Days Later campaign kicks off today with a spotlight on Marguerite Abouet. Each day during Black History Month, we'll profile one of our honorees. We hope you'll visit often and join us in saluting their work.


Team member Don Tate created a 28 Days Later poster that's available for free download:


We hope it becomes a valued part of classrooms and libraries.

The Brown Bookshelf is a team of authors and illustrators dedicated to pushing awareness of the many African American voices writing for young readers. The team includes Paula Chase-Hyman, Varian Johnson, Don Tate, Kelly Starling Lyons, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Tameka Fryer Brown.

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15. Sweet Review

Received this review of One Million Men and Me yesterday. So sweet. Made my day:

"I liked the story about the little girl who looks just like me. i met the author and she was really nice. she signed my book and was a lot of fun. i like learning about the girl who went on an important trip with a her dad because my dad works all the time, ...far away. i hope i can go on a trip with my dad one day." -- Tia, 6.

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16. February Book Club Selections

Lower Elementary:

Who Will I Be Lord? by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Sean Qualls

First Pooch: The Obamas Pick a Pet by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Amy Bates

Upper Elementary:

Coretta by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Praise for Coretta:

"Poet and painter have joined forces to offer an indelible, emotional expression of the strength, beauty, and joy of one woman's character."

-- starred review, Booklist

Michelle by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by AG Ford

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17. Virtual Book Club

For the past few years, I’ve facilitated book clubs for African-American girls. We’ve read dozens of picture books that celebrate black children and families. Sometimes, I get emails from parents, community group leaders and teachers asking me to recommend good books about children of color. So this year, I decided to take my virtual book club -- something I've featured on my website for a while -- to another level.

Every other month, I'll post four picture book titles -- two appropriate for preschool/young elementary readers and two for upper elementary readers. I may include craft ideas and other ways to bring the books to life in your home, classroom and library. The books will be written and/or illustrated by African-American authors and illustrators.

Please join us in reading these books and saluting the wonderful people who created them. If you enjoy a particular selection, please post a review on Amazon.com. Your feedback may help keep a good book in print. And please share your child's thoughts about the books here on my blog or on my FaceBook page. Let me know if you like the virtual book club idea too. That way, I'll know if this is something that's useful to you and your family.

A writing friend, Jeannine Montgomery, is starting a book club dedicated to boys. Go Jeannine! So I'll post a link to what she's doing too.

Also, to find more great reads about African-American children and teens, please check out The Brown Bookshelf, a site created by a team of black authors and illustrators dedicated to raising awareness of African-American children’s literature. I'm honored to be part of that group.

Finally, I created a few Listmania lists on Amazon.com that offer more wonderful books to consider sharing with young people you love:

Kelly’s Favorite Picture Books
Board & Early Picture Books Featuring African-American Children
Picture Books Featuring African-American Boys

Here’s to celebrating children’s literature every day.

Happy Reading!


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18. Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, Everybody!

Lots of great things happening. One of my forthcoming picture books is closer to publication. The illustrator is working on sketches. Can't wait to see them.

Took a mediabistro YA/MG class taught by Erica Sussman of HarperCollins. Really demanding, but I highly recommend it! My middle grade novel-in-progress is so much further along.

Thinking of ways to share One Million Men and Me with more children. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Million Man March. Sadly, too many kids have never heard of the March. Hoping to change that.

Claiming joy and peace in 2010 and wishing it for all of you.

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19. Kelly's YouTube Channel

I never knew there was such a rich literary community on YouTube. I created a channel with some of my favorite book trailers and author interviews. I even saw some by my writing friends. Too cool.

Here's my channel:

Kelly's YouTube Channel

Happy Viewing!

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20. Drum Roll Please . . .


Thank you so much for the great feedback on my trailer for One Million Men and Me. I'm happy to present the final version. Please let me know what you think.

Here's the trailer. Click the arrow to view:

I also created some free printables for the book:

Word Scramble


Coloring Page

Please share with a child you know. Thank you so much for your support.

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21. One Million Men and Me Trailer

Hey Everyone,

I've been so inspired by the wonderful children's book trailers on the Web that I decided to try my own. I used Microsoft MovieMaker and royalty-free music I found online. Please check it out and let me know what you think. I'd love to get some feedback before making it live.

Here's the link. Click the arrow to view:

Thanks so much for your support.

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22. 12 Brown Boys

We hear a lot about the need to get more boys reading. According to a 2000 study cited by the National Center for Education Statistics, boys lagged behind girls in reading performance across all age groups. Experts say the reading gap for African-American and Latino young men is even more pronounced. There are lots of factors that contribute to this problem. But here are two that seem solvable — Some boys find books boring and have trouble connecting with the stories. How can we turn that around? Give young men books that reflect their interests and lives.

12 Brown Boys (Just Us Books, 2008), the children’s book debut of best-selling urban lit novelist Omar Tyree, does that in a meaningful way. In this short story collection for middle-graders, Tyree explores the lives of a memorable cast of tween brown boys. His characters, with names like Red-Head Mike, Chestnut and Oneal, come from different family situations and backgrounds. They face different trials. They show diversity in their interests and beliefs. But they’re united in being young men with frailties and flaws, strengths and talents. Tyree succeeds in creating distinct personalities with complex lives.

He opens the book with the throw-back story of a boy named Michael who loves Heavy D and Rakim and looks up to an older teen named Cool Dave. Then, Michael discovers what Dave does for a living and things get more complicated. Tyree shows us a boy who struggles with reading in public until his dad teaches him a trick he used as a child. There’s a young artist and musician who inspires his friend. There’s an oldest son who stands up when he’s needed most. In Tyree’s book, we travel from Jamaica to Detroit, from Washington, D.C. to Charlotte and a camp in the Poconos to meet boys who stick up for their beliefs, have fun their own way, weather challenging moments and unfamiliar experiences to become their best selves.

12 Brown Boys is a needed book that gives African-American boys an important incentive to read – reflections of themselves.

Here is a Book Links article that offers more titles that celebrate African-American boys:

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23. Amadi's Snowman: A Conversation

I first met author Katia Novet Saint-Lot in an online workshop taught by Uma Krishnaswami. I admired Katia's works-in-progress for their grace and multicultural themes. Now, I'm delighted to have the chance to share in the celebration of her new picture book, Amadi's Snowman (Tilbury House, 2008).

Check out the cool trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=venuVqxYZNI

To spread the word about her book, Katia has embarked on a virtual global tour. She has visited Haiti, France, India. Now, she's here at Kuumba. Please join us as we discuss Amadi's Snowman, diversity in children's literature and our missions as writers and moms:

Kelly: Katia, your wonderful picture book, Amadi's Snowman, gives African children a chance to see and hear themselves. I wish I had a book like yours as a child. I was one of those library kids, an eager reader who dove right into every book I got. I remember cherishing books like Miss Nelson Is Missing, Danny and the Dinosaur and Where the Wild Things Are. Those stories were magical, but something was missing.

I was working at Ebony magazine two decades later when I was reminded what it was. One of my responsibilities was to choose books to review. I remember opening one package and pulling out a picture book called Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, illustrated by Chris Soenpiet. In the face of that little African-American girl, I saw my nieces, cousins, kids around my neighborhood and the child I used to be. Reading that book not only touched my heart, but set me on a new path: I wanted to give back by writing for children. I wanted to write stories that gave black children reflections of their families and themselves. Now as a mom, it's even more important to me that my son and daughter have stories that represent their experiences.Being a mother of biracial children, do you feel that mission too?

Katia: Hello Kelly, First of all, thank you for offering me the opportunity to have this interesting conversation with you, and for the kinds words about Amadi's Snowman. To answer your first question, YES!, I absolutely, totally feel that mission, not only as the mother of biracial children, but also as the mother of two Third Culture Kids.

I was also one of those library children, and reading is a way of life for me. I look for answers to all of life's questions in books, always have. So, when I was pregnant with my first daughter, I eagerly started looking for books that would represent her and her family. That was in 2000, and I only found two: Black is Brown is Tan, by Arnold Adoff, and Billy and Belle, by Sarah Garland, which was published in the U.K. in 1992. I was shocked, and it made me realize how difficult it is for white people to understand what it means to grow up as a minority and to not see oneself mirrored in things as important as books.

Having grown up in France with a Spanish mother whose French people in shops openly mocked (when they didn't insult her), and whom my friends didn't understand, means that I always had a keen understanding of what it means to be different, so that really struck a chord. And then, we moved to Nigeria, then to India, and my children are not only biracial, they also belong to the fast-growing population of Third Culture Kids, and again, same problem: there is barely anything out there describing their experience. TCKs, by the way, are children who spend a significant part of their childhood in cultures different from the culture(s) of their parents or passport, and that includes children of first generation immigrants.

Our world is becoming increasingly global, and Obama's election feels very symptomatic in that respect. He's a TCK himself, with parents from different races and countries, who lived in Indonesia as a child, and I feel that aside from his outstanding qualities, his diverse background is something that appeals to the younger generations who seem to have a broader approach to life. One just has to see how his victory was celebrated the world over. No one can continue to limit their view of the world to what happens in their backyard.

The way I designed this blog tour is another example of how strongly I feel about bringing the whole world to our children. I wanted this to be as open and international as it could possibly be, because if our kids start exchanging ideas and information with other children who live all around the planet, regardless of the color of their skin, their religion, their customs, diet, ways of dressing, etc, then, a connection is created, and where there is a connection, the chances for open, unbiased dialog immediately increase. Sorry for that long answer. I feel very passionate about this subject, as you can see. So yes, I do long to see more and more children of diverse backgrounds and origins in books, and I do hope to contribute, in my small way, to increasing their numbers.

Kelly: Katia, I love the window books like yours open to the world. Through stories, my daughter here in North Carolina can feel kinship with children in countries like India, Haiti and Nigeria where Amadi's Snowman takes place. That's the transcendent power of writing. Characters such as your Amadi can transport children to their homelands, let them witness new experiences. But multicultural books connect children to something universal too. Children can have different skin colors, traditions, religious beliefs, but they're linked through emotions. No matter where they live, they can understand what joy, disappointment, frustration, hope feel like. In this way, multicultural books expand their reach, not just giving children of color mirrors, but helping all children to see that we're all more alike than different. Thank you.

I feel a sense of purpose and responsibility as I write. I've gone into classrooms and heard children say your character is just like me or your story made me think about my family. That makes me feel really good. My hope is that stories give children touchstones. I think that's one way to pull reluctant readers in. We hear a lot about schools wanting to reach young people who turn away from reading. Making sure our books show diverse cultures and experiences is a way to affirm children and let them know that their experiences matter. That commitment can turn reluctant readers into eager ones. It's troubling to me when I visit schools and children have few classroom opportunities to connect with diverse stories. Books are bridges. They can connect us to other cultures, imaginary lands and even parts of ourselves.How have children responded to Amadi's Snowman? How does that make you feel?

Katia: Before I answer your questions, I want you to know that I totally agree with you. Yes, books are bridges. And children are wonderful in the sense that they have not accumulated most of the fears and prejudices that seem to plague too many adults. They will not have misgivings about crossing those bridges. In fact, they are happy to. They are curious, and eager, and open. That's why education is so incredibly important. It can turn a young mind into an open, tolerant human being, or on the contrary, push them on the road of closed up ignorance, intolerance and bigotry. I honestly don't see how we could continue to live in a world where books so blatantly contradict the reality we live in. And the reality we live in is a multicultural reality; maybe a little more so in some places than in other, but it's certainly inevitable, and in my opinion, a cause for celebration.

Children's response to Amadi's Snowman has been overwhelmingly positive, so far. They love that he's so real; he's not perfect, but he's perfectible, the way we all are. A lot of children (and adults too, judging by the reviews we've gotten so far) can relate to the fact that he has never seen snow. The story touches so many themes that everyone can relate to : resistance to learning something new, reluctance to change. That's universal.

How does it make me feel? Immensely grateful and happy. This has been quite an adventure, with highs and lows, some frustrations, but so much joy, and I have the feeling the ride is not over. This blog tour, also, has turned into something really meaningful to me. I just had this clear idea of getting schools from different places involved, to create these bridges, exactly as you mention, but I didn't realize the impact it could have (nor the staggering amount of work that it was going to require, and I have to say a word for Tilbury's publicist, Sarah McGinnis, here, because I don't think I could have done it without her unfailing support.)

And it's certainly been worth all the work: I've loved talking to children here in India, and creating a picture of Nigeria for them that, I think, will be a little more accurate than the one they get from the media and the world around them. For instance, most of them had not realized that a lot of the issues that Amadi faces are in fact issues and problems faced by a large number of Indian children. When I mentioned that in India too there are kids at traffic lights who clean car windows, try to sell little items, etc, it was as if a light bulb went off in their heads. They also liked the fact that they eat fried plantains like Amadi, especially in the South of India.

We also talked about the way people dress in both countries, the weather, the games played here and there. And every time I discover new material sent to me from Nigeria, from Haiti, from Italy, and counting, I have shivers going up and down my back. Finally, seeing a little girl tell me on my first visit that she hates reading because it's boring, and on my second visit, when I asked the class if the book had changed the way they approached books and reading, seeing her raise her arm enthusiastically... Wow ! I write these words and again, I'm shivering. Basically, I'm experiencing what I've always sensed, intuitively: our job is one of the greatest in the world.

Kelly: I know what you mean about seeing that lightbulb go off for a child. It's like all of a sudden they read a book that they get -- and gets them -- and the walls are down. They're ready to find more books like it, need to find more like it. I once described reading Something Beautiful as taking a gulp of cold water after a long, hot day. Reading good books can satisfy you, refresh you and quench a thirst sometimes you didn't even know you had.

Other books have done that for me too: Coming on Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson, I Dream of Trains by Angela Johnson and most recently Blues Journey by Walter Dean Myers. (Thank you, Rotem, for the recommendation :). I agree that we have one of the greatest jobs in the world. We get a chance to empower children and help inspire a lifelong love of reading. It's a blessing.

I love the way you decsribed children's reaction to your book. It's so important to celebrate differences and appreciate commonalities. You created a real character in Amadi. Were there children's books that inspired you as you worked on yours? I'd love to see more African children's books in schools. But we have a long way to go. Your blog tour is one way to raise awareness. What else can we do as writers? mothers?

Katia: I remember reading Elizabeti's Doll, by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, quite a lot when I first wrote Amadi's Snowman. I LOVE Jacqueline Woodson's books. I heard her speak at a SCBWI conference, a couple of years ago. She's very inspiring.

I think we're doing what we can, as writers. We write and we broach the subjects that we feel are important, and we try to fill in the gaps. I do hope to have more opportunities to have conversations like the ones I had with the children at the Vidyaranya school, here, in Hyderabad, in the future. This is something I discovered about myself : I didn't know I would enjoy school visits as much as I do. I'm usually quite uncomfortable in crowds, but this was different, and I felt right at home. It was a great experience.

As mothers, having such books around and reading them to our children is one way of giving them exposure to other cultures. I have to admit that my family is very lucky in that department. We not only live in diverse countries (Nigeria, the US, India, and who knows where we'll be going next), but our own family is quite a patchwork, with ties to Haiti, France, Spain and the US. We could not not live a multicultural life even if we wanted to - and we definitely don't.

Kelly: I agree that it's important for moms to teach our children the beauty of other cultures. For me, it's also essential to be an advocate. If we see that diverse books are missing in bookstores, schools or libraries, we should mention it and try to help turn things around. Change can happen. It can start with a whisper and turn into a roar. So many times I meet parents and even teachers and librarians who are searching for great, multicultural books to share with kids. At The Brown Bookshelf, we're working to raise awareness of African-American children's books. But it will take time for true parity to grow. Having conversations like this can help. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and for writing Amadi's Snowman. It's a lovely story. I wish you much success.

Katia: Yes, advocacy is essential. That's what this blog tour is doing, in a very concrete way, I hope. Writing and sharing our books, and other books with characters from diverse backgrounds and cultures is another way of advocating our cause, as mentioned above. And initiatives like The Brown Bookshelf is yet another one. Anything that works, I say :) Thank you, Kelly, for hosting this conversation and being a part of our tour. I also wish you continued success.

To read more of Katia's fascinating global virtual tour, please visit: http://katianovetsaintlot.blogspot.com/

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24. The Face of Change

One reason why I love children’s books is their power to move, affirm, delight and inspire. It amazes me the scope of emotions and topics they cover. When I needed help explaining to my daughter what voting and election day were all about, they were there.

I turned to books like If I Ran for President by Catherine Stier and illustrated by Lynne Avril and Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. My daughter could see herself in the picture of brown-skinned Grace who decides she wants to run for president one day after hearing there has never been a woman U.S. president. She could see her baby brother in the face of the boy on the cover of If I Ran For President. In those images, she saw an America of possibility, a place where any child can aspire to hold the highest office in the land.

Yesterday, we had an election night party. We let our daughter vote on her favorite colors, snacks, TV shows and activities. We sang My Country Tis of Thee and America the Beautiful. We talked about the American flag and what freedom and justice mean.

Before Sen. Obama became President-Elect Obama, my 4-year-old asked me to write down her request of him should he win.

Dear Mr. Obama:
Please give the children food and drink, play time, a place to be safe and love. Thank you.

She fell asleep before the results were announced — and Barack Obama strode into history as the first African-American president-elect. But to see her laying on the couch clutching her Obama doll, with an American flag pinwheel and her red, white and blue bear by her side touched me more than words can say.

I’m so full today that I struggle to explain the enormity of this moment. The road has been so long and pocked with sorrow and sacrifice that I don’t know where to start. But there’s been hope and promise on this journey too, that sustained us like the enduring faith and soaring Negro spirituals that let our ancestors know that liberty was on the way. President-Elect Barack Obama is the face of hope, change, freedom and much more.

I’m blessed that I don’t have to struggle to find the words to explain Barack Obama’s amazing journey. Children’s book authors are there for me again. Here are two books that explore the incredible life of President-Elect Barack Obama:

Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope is a beautiful picture book collaboration of award-winning author Nikki Grimes and award-winning illustrator Bryan Collier.

Here are some reviews:

"One day Hope stopped by for a visit,” begins this biography, narrowly framed as an exchange between an African-American mother and her son. They sit together on a “frayed” sofa in a “tenement” as she tells him who “Braco-what?” is and why he is so special; at the end she blinks back tears when he tells her that he, too, wants to be president when he grows up. (Hope later talks to Barack Obama, as does God.) Grimes (Bronx Masquerade) approaches her themes with a heavy hand, starting with her treatment of race as she describes “his mama, white as whipped cream,/ his daddy, black as ink” (she gets at awe similarly: “Barry’s mom married/ a man named Lolo/ and-Oh! The wonderland/ he took Barry to: Indonesia”). Collier uses watercolor and collage, a choice he explains as a metaphor for the way Obama has “piece[d] life’s issues together to create a courageous vision for the world.” There is much to find in each composition (artfully placed photo images, batik patterns, etc.), but the illustrations often feel static and a few (like the one in which a single tear streams momentously down Obama’s cheek), stagy. Ages 5-10."

– Publisher’s Weekly

“When David wonders why all those people on TV are shouting one man’s name, his mother tells him Barack Obama’s story. Accompanied by Collier’s trademark, powerful collages, Grimes’s storytelling voice, heavily tinged with the gospel rhythms of the black church, relates the particulars of Obama’s youth, from his childhood in Hawaii and yearning for his estranged father, to his days as a community activist in Illinois, in the Senate and, most briefly, his presidential campaign. David’s questions and his mother’s responses punctuate each double-page spread, never letting readers forget the story’s frame. It’s a contrivance that works, perhaps because it’s so obviously informed by the author’s own passion, described in a concluding note. Based primarily on Obama’s Dreams from My Father (2004) as well as other sources, this work stands on shaky nonfiction ground, as Grimes admits to taking artistic license; most troubling are unsourced quotations within the text. Still, of the three candidates’ picture-book biographies out this season, this stands as the one most likely to communicate to children on a visceral level. (author’s, illustrator’s notes, resources, timeline, family tree) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)”

– Kirkus

For older readers, Garen Thomas has written a wonderful biography of Barack Obama called Yes We Can. Check out the reviews below:

“Readers in search of insight to this political icon’s personal history will not be disappointed. From his personal trials and tribulations regarding identity issues of race and home to his struggles accepting his absentee father and his successes and setbacks in the academic and political arenas, Thomas recounts Obama’s life story in compelling detail. Although he has seen his share of disappointments and tragedies, Obama’s commitment to the importance of family and the need for change in America shines brilliantly. First identifying in kindergarten his desire to become president, this biography reveals exactly how far Obama has come, how hard he has worked to earn the Democratic nomination, and how close he is to accomplishing his dream. Thomas demonstrates an extensive knowledge of Obama’s personal and political lives. The biography is at once entertaining and informative, with a healthy mix of personal anecdotes and political and social discussions. Although it broaches topics such as racism, apartheid, poverty, and the politics of America, it does so in a fair and balanced way. The book is peppered with thought-provoking quotes from an array of Obama’s speeches, photographs from his childhood to the present, and text-box insets that provide additional information on subjects with which readers may not be familiar, such as superdelegates and campaign fundraisers. Written in narrative form, it is a quick, engaging read that with a bit of encouragement will appeal to a wide range of readers.”

– Voya

“Gr. 5-9. Thomas describes Obama as a “new leader who seems to be granting Americans a renewed license to dream,” and maintains an admiring tone throughout. She opens with a look at his Kenyan father and American mother and covers Obama’s childhood, education, and early influences. The author also relates his efforts as an adult to learn about his father and his African heritage and to find his place in America. The last chapters chronicle Obama’s rapid political ascent and his early victories in the Democratic primary, briefly mentioning some campaign controversies, such as his relationship with outspoken minister Jeremiah Wright. Each section of the book opens with a quote from Obama, and the text is supplemented with black-and-white photos of the senator and his family and friends. Although Thomas does not document her sources, an author’s note explains that she draws both from Obama’s own memoirs and other published and interview sources. While there is little here that has not been widely reported in the media or adult titles, Thomas’s clear prose will help students learn more about the first African American to gain a major party nomination for the presidency.”

– School Library Journal

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25. Time Flies

Wow, it has been a long time since I posted. But I've been putting my time to good use. I wrote a couple of new picture books this summer and polished one I wrote this spring. I read a lot -- Angela Johnson, Jane Yolen, Bebe Moore Campbell. I outlined my writing goals.

Now, I'm back, inspired and ready to soar.

Here's some good news:

My story, Finding My Voice, was selected to appear in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk High School. The book debuts Nov. 4.

One Million Men and Me is a semi-finalist in the multicultural picture book category of the Moonbeam Awards. Here's a link to all of the semifinalists:

http://www.independentpublisher.com/article.php?pa ge=1250

My website has been redesigned by TyWebbin (www.tywebbin.com). You can check it out at: www.kellystarlinglyons.com.

Thank you for your support.

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