Words to Live By: Kelly Starling Lyons

This segment features exclusive interviews with authors, artists, and community members.


September 7, 2021

Kelly Starling Lyons

Kelly Starling Lyons is a children’s book author and a founding member of The Brown Bookshelf, an initiative dedicated to raising awareness of Black authors and illustrators. Her numerous books include the Ty’s Travel series, Ellen’s Broom, the Jada Jones series, and more! Kelly is a beloved member of Book Harvest’s Authors’ Circle. 


Is there a book or genre that stands out in your memory from your youth?

In third grade, I was paging through a book club catalog and saw Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. It was like time stopped and all that existed was that book and me. That was my first time seeing a Black girl on the cover of a children’s book. I didn’t need to read the description or find out what reviewers said. Immediately, I wanted to make it mine. Before I even read the book, the cover spoke to my heart telling me that my story mattered, my family and history deserved to be centered and affirmed. I believe that experience planted a seed in me that bloomed into my becoming a children’s book author.

What kind of reader were you as a child?

I was an avid reader. My favorite spot to read was snuggled behind my bedroom door with my feet warmed by the radiator grate. Reading was like going on a journey. I could walk in characters’ shoes, see through their eyes, feel their longing to overcome obstacles and make dreams come true. I never tired of those trips.

What book should everybody read before they turn 18?

I don’t have a recommendation for one book everybody should read. But my hope is that by the time someone reaches 18 they’ve read books that reflect who they are. I hope they’ve found stories that celebrate the beauty of their lives, show how to transform trials into triumphs and felt the magic of books that make them feel seen, heard and loved.

What kind of books are on your bookshelf?

Ask my kids what we have the most of in our house. They’ll answer books. I grew in a home where books were everywhere. As I look around, we have the same reality here. Our bookshelves are packed with children’s literature – board books and picture books, middle-grade and young adult novels. Representation matters to me, so our collection is wonderfully diverse. Books by Black authors sit side by side with those by white authors, Native authors and authors of color. You’ll also find craft books on writing, poetry books, adult novels, reference books and more on our shelves.

What are you reading currently?

Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes by Don Tate

What is your favorite place to read? Pre- and/or during the pandemic?

I love to read in the family room. I snuggle into the cushions of the sofa and fly into new worlds.

Who is your favorite all-time character from a book?

I can’t pick an all-time favorite character. But here’s one that stays with me: I love the unnamed main character in Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. She goes around her neighborhood searching for what others consider beautiful, creates beauty where she lives and discovers it inside herself.

If you could have dinner with three authors from any period in time, who would you pick?

Jacqueline Woodson, Virginia Hamilton and Toni Morrison

What are the children in your life currently reading?

Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood by Kwame Mbalia and Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Do you have a favorite quote from literature? If so, what is it?

One of my favorite literary quotes comes from Fences by playwright August Wilson, who was born and raised in Pittsburgh like me: “You got to take the crookeds with the straights.” In life, we’re going to struggle sometimes and succeed others. Both are integral parts of our growth and experience. I love the homespun wisdom of the quote from Fences and the depth of its meaning.


Thank you to Kelly for taking the time to thoughtfully answer our questions! You can read more about her on her website at www.kellystarlinglyons.com.

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