Kelly Starling Lyons is the author of the Jada Jones books I reviewed.
I actually got to meet her through Skype when she spoke to the entire fourth grade at my school. She talked about her books, why she writes about African-Americans, and also gave us writing tips. The Skype visit was part of the grand prize I won for entering a writing contest about Jada Jones. I also got autographed copies of the series and a cool Jada Jones bag that I carry my books in.
Kelly Starling Lyons has written many books. I’ve read several of her picture books. She is an author who likes to write about children who look like her. She writes books on African-American culture and history, too. You can read my questions and her answers below.
Question: What inspired you to write Jada Jones?
Answer: When my daughter was in elementary school, she searched for chapter book series starring girls who looked like her. We found some great ones like Nikki & Deja, Sassy, Ruby & the Booker Boys and Willimena Rules. She treasured those stories but longed for more. There were plenty of series with white characters. Why weren’t more series with black characters available too? I wrote the book so my daughter and girls like you could see themselves.
The idea for Jada Jones: Rock Star was inspired by my daughter too. When she was in third grade, she and her best rock-collecting friend were put in different classes. They were devastated. I decided to use that experience as the seed of a story. What if instead of moving across the hall, a girl’s BFF moved across the country? How would she cope?
Q: What message do you want kids to get out of these books?
A: I want kids to know they can overcome anything. It’s tough when people you love move away, but they’re always in your heart. I want kids to celebrate what makes them special. Jada would say: “Dare to shine by being you.” Finally, I want them to be good friends to each other.
Q: Why do you think diversity is important in children’s literature?
A: As a mom, children’s book author and founding member of The Brown Bookshelf (www.thebrownbookshelf.com), I know how important it is for kids to see their reflections and know their lives matter. When you’re invisible in literature, you can feel like your history, dreams and every-day experiences aren’t as valued as those of others. I want to change that. All kids deserve to be seen. All kids need to know they can be children’s book creators too. When you see authors and artists who look like you, it can inspire you to write and illustrate your own stories.
Q: Are there a couple of children’s books you’d recommend for kids like me?
A: Here are three: Check out these chapter book series – Ruby & the Booker Boys, Jasmine Toguchi and Dyamonde Daniel. They’re some of my faves.
Q: Did you always want to be an author and how did you reach your goal?
A: As a child, I loved to read. You could usually find me with my feet warmed by the radiator, flying through book pages to other worlds. Books lived in nearly every room of our house. My mom showed me that I didn’t just have to read stories. I could create them too.
At bedtime, she would make up tales that starred my little brother and me. She wrote plays that were performed at church and acted in community theater. Inspired by her and my grandparents who would tell me family stories, I began to write.
Ever since I wrote a poem about the beauty of the color black in second grade, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Through middle school, high school and college, I kept reading and writing, learning and growing. When I decided to write for kids, I read children’s books, took classes, received feedback on my work, submitted stories and kept trying when they were turned down. Being an author takes creativity, hard work and faith. I feel so lucky to do something I love.
Q: Lastly, I’m curious about one part in Jada Jones: Class Act. Was Miles trying to spy on Jada or did he just overhear her conversation about her fear?
A: Thanks so much for your question. Miles wasn’t trying to spy on Jada. He just happened to be walking by and overheard what she said. He’s a good friend so he was worried about her.
Read more about Kelly Starling Lyons on her website.
Elena, when was your moment when you realized that you wanted to be a writer?
In first grade I really liked books and I wanted to be seen as an author, too. I wrote (but did not finish) a book, using folded paper. Maybe I should finish it! There wasn’t a conflict in it so I need to come up with a conflict. I think every good book has some kind of conflict or problem that needs to be resolved.
Excellent interview with the author. I will need to invest in this series for my granddaughter.
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I hope she likes them as much as I did!