Kelly Starling Lyons

Inside The Book of Ellen's Broom w/ Kelly Starling Lyons by JMcManus

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Hello Everyone,

I hope you’re all doing well in this New Year!

Welcome to Inside The Books. This is JMcManus with another post for you. Today’s post is part of Kelly Starling Lyons blog tour for the release of her new book Ellen’s Broom, a wonderful book about a young girl’s experience of freedom.

Ellen always knew that the broom resting above the hearth was special. Before it was legal for her mother and father to officially be married, the broom was what made them a family. But now all former slaves who had already been married in their hearts could register as lawful husband and wife.

As part of the blog tour Kelly Starling Lyons will be giving away a grand prize to anyone who leaves a comment on any of the tour stops. So please read the interview and review below and leave a comment for your chance to win a decorated wedding broom courtesy of Stuart’s Creations ( and a poster of the Ellen’s Broom cover. The winner will be drawn on January 16.


1. As a writer myself, I’m always interested in the creation of characters. Can you tell us about Ellen and how she became the character of your book?

While researching family history, I saw a Virginia cohabitation register that listed formerly enslaved couples, the dates of their marriages and the names and ages of their children. Though their marriages – sometimes celebrated by jumping a broom – weren’t legal during slavery, they were finally in 1866 protected by law. Freedmen’s Bureau officers registered the couples and even issued some marriage certificates. Ellen was the result of my imagining what it would be like for a girl whose parents finally have their marriage made legal.

It took an editor’s encouragement to see my research had potential for a story. Once I started working on it, I envisioned Ellen and her family and tried to imagine how they would feel to go from slavery to freedom. I could see her mama wanting to make sure the story of what they survived was not forgotten. The broom was a symbol that Ellen came to see as a special part of their history. It’s something she vowed to pass on.

2. During a time of change, from slavery to freedom, one constant in Ellen’s life was the broom her parents jumped during slavery. Can you tell us why it is so important for children of today to understand the history of brooms in marriage during that time period?

Today, it’s not unusual to attend an African-American wedding where the couple jumps the broom. But many children have no idea why they’re doing it. Ellen’s Broom helps give them a sense of the history. It shares what the broom ritual meant to enslaved families who could be torn apart at any time. Through the story, they see that even as Ellen’s family celebrated new freedoms – like finally having marriages of former slaves legalized — it was important to remember that past. I hope it helps children understand why jumping the broom is done by some couples in memory of that history now.

3. I was delighted to receive a small broom with my copy of Ellen’s Broom. Is that something that will ship out with every copy?

There’s a fun craft kids can do to make their own miniature broom out of a pencil. Directions are in the Ellen’s Broom craft and discussion guide created by author/educator Debbie Gonzales. Here’s the link: EllensBroomDiscussionActivityGuide.pdf.

4. Can you share with us an unknown fact about the book? Like something that appeared in the first draft that was edited out by the final draft.

One fact few people know is that I chose the name Ellen for the main character in honor of my maternal grandfather’s mother, Ellen Hairston Starling.  It was through researching her side of the family that I stumbled across the cohabitation register that inspired this story. I also learned that Ellen is a family name. Her grandmother, who likely was once enslaved, was named Ellen too.

Something that was edited out of the story were the names of the songs Ellen, her family and the rest of the congregation sang in the church. I mentioned Follow the Drinking Gourd, Wade in the Water and Go Down, Moses. Those songs gave enslaved people hope and in some cases instructions for escape. Once free, the songs were a testament to what they survived and a reminder to cherish their freedom. You can still hear those spirituals in some churches today.

5. As an author, what inspires you to write?

I’m inspired to write children’s books by the memory of being a child who rarely saw herself and her history reflected in stories for young people. I write to help create a different reality for kids today. I write to give back.

I still remember the story that inspired me to write for kids, Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. It was the first time I saw an African-American girl featured on the cover of a picture book. Right then, I decided to add my voice.

6. Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

I’m so grateful for the chance to share this story. I wrote Ellen’s Broom as a celebration of family, love and freedom. I was amazed by how illustrator Daniel Minter reflected those themes in his art. People can learn more about Ellen’s Broom and find printables for kids at my site, If you want a peek inside the book, you can watch the trailer for Ellen’s Broomhere. Thanks again for all of your support.


Thank you Kelly for a wonderful interview and some insight in the making of Ellen’s Broom.

Ellen’s Broom is a delightful book about how a broom that was once used during the time of slavery for marriage becomes a tradition. Readers will journey with Ellen as she carries the broom her parents once jumped over during slavery to bind the family, to a courthouse where her parents will be officially married.

Kelly has a wonderful and delightful way of creating characters that connects with young readers. And that connection takes you on a journey through a moment in time. It’s like the characters hold your hand as they tell you about history…what a way to learn.

And let me just say, from someone who is big on illustrations, Daniel Minter did a wonderful job with his block print illustrations. When my eight-year-old daughter saw this book lying on my table she asked if she could have a poster.

Ellen’s Broom is a great book about family traditions and I can’t wait to read more books from Kelly Starling Lyons.

Inside The Book of One Million Men and Me w/ Kelly Starling Lyons by JMcManus

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(Article first published as Interview: Kelly Starling Lyons, Author of One Million Men and Me on Blogcritics.)

Hey Everyone,

Welcome to Inside The Books Interview with Kelly Starling Lyons author of One Million Men and Me.

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?

It can be purchased at select bookstores and many online booksellers such as and It’s also available through my publisher, Just Us Books.

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

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 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

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.

Thanks so much for your support.