In front of students at Butler Avenue School, Kelly Starling Lyons smiled as she shared her love of books.
“There’s books about everything, buried treasure, pirates, unicorns, adventures,” Starling said with excitement about her childhood. “I loved to read them all.”
Years later, she wrote several books of her own. The Raleigh-based children’s book author came to Clinton to help inspire students to write and read. After writing for several years, Lyons became inspired to write for children after she saw “Something Beautiful,” by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. It was the first time she saw an African-American girl on the cover of a picture book.
Next, she wrote children’s books which featured inspiration from her background and family. One of her book’s “Ellen’s Broom” was inspired by a documents she came across while researching family history from Rockingham County and Henry County, Va.
Her most recent book “Hope’s Gift,” is associated with the Emancipation Proclamation and takes place during the first Christmas of the Civil War. It follows a little girl who receives a special gift from her father after he runs away from a plantation to provide a better life for his family.
During her visit, Kelly Starling Lyons hopes the students share their stories as well.
“A lot of the stories that I tell are things that I’ve seen, read about or remembered,” Lyons said. “The message that I want to leave them with is that they have stories to tell and their lives matter. All we have to do is work hard as we can and we can make it happen.”
Lyons also shared a message of not giving up, while talking about her books, which included “Tea Cakes for Tosh,” which was inspired by her relationship with her grandmother. She wrote the rough draft in 2002, but the book was not published until 2012.
“Sometimes, you’re going to get a no and sometimes you’re going to get some obstacles in your path,” Lyons said to the students. “But that does not mean we should stop.”
For the author, it’s a long haul process.
“You have to be committed to it,” she said. “When I first started writing, someone once told me that writing is like a muscle. If you don’t work it, you’ll be flabby and out of shape. The more you practice the better you’ll become.”
Many children asked Lyons about her work and the process of making a book. She was impressed with the children’s knowledge on the Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln.
“I say kudos to the teachers for instilling that in them early,” Lyons said referring to the history. “I love their curiosity about the book and illustrating process.”
Her visit was made possible through The Simple Gifts Fund and its Sampson County Love of Learning Grant. The purpose is to help local educators and their students receive programs and learning opportunities in the classroom, after school or in the summer.
“When I was in school, I never saw a children’s book author,” she said. “I might have came to this dream earlier if I had. Hopefully, we’ve inspired some kids and opened their eyes to new possibilities.”
Margaret Turlington, coordinator for The Simple Gifts Fund, said it was a great opportunity for students to utilize the grant program and to meet authors such as Lyons.
“It gives them an opportunity to meet a real author and be inspired to write, read or become an artist,” Turlington said.