You may know Kelly Starling Lyons for One Million Men and Me or Tea Cakes for Tosh or Ellen’s Broom, memorable picture books, but we’re celebrating her new chapter books starring Jada Jones! Thanks, Kelly, for taking a Skinny Dip with us in December.
Who was your favorite teacher in grades K-7 and why?
That’s a tough question. I loved all of my teachers. But two that stand out are Dr. Kupec at Beechwood Elementary and Mr. Powell at Milliones Middle School.
Dr. Kupec was my second grade teacher and later principal of the school. I looked forward to going to her class to see what wonders were in store. Would we sing? Act? Read books that took us to other worlds? She knew how to captivate kids and make learning fun.
Another favorite was band director and teacher Mr. Powell. Brilliant, creative and exacting, he taught me the power of practice and feeling what you’re playing. Under his direction, I couldn’t just blend into the background. I had synthesizer solos that put me in the spotlight. He even wrote a song that showcased my playing called “Kelly’s Blues.” I’ll always remember how amazing that made me feel.
All-time favorite book?
A children’s book that made a big impact on me was Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. In the story, an African-American girl learns that the power to create beauty lives in her. I looked at her face full of wonder and saw girls I know and little me. That was the first time I saw a black character on the cover of a picture book. It called me to write for kids and will always have special meaning.
Favorite breakfast or lunch as a kid?
Breakfast is my favorite meal. On weekends, we would sit around the table and marvel at the spread made by my grandma and mom. The table was filled with favorites—fried apples, scrambled eggs with cheese, homefries, link sausage, homemade muffins, banana pancakes with warm maple syrup. It was a feast of food and love.
Your best memory of your library?
My local Carnegie Library was magical. All around, stories waited to be read and explored. It was a place where adventures and dreams came to life. Reading was like being on another plane, outside of time and space. Those storytelling journeys meant everything to me. I feel blessed to be creating them for children today.
Your favorite toy as a child?
I treasured my homemade Raggedy Ann doll. In stores, I just saw white ones. But a relative made one with skin the color of mine. It was more than a toy. It was an affirmation, a love letter. It’s one of the few keepsakes I’ve held onto from childhood. Today, it’s my daughter’s.
Having a band teacher write a song for you while you were in middle school…what a powerful experience! And I loved your story about the impact your books made on that particular class of second graders. Think of all the other children you’ll never hear about who have also been influenced by your books!
Thanks so much, David. Mr. Powell was the best. Appreciate your kind words. Happy Holidays!