Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ellen's Broom Written by Kelly Starling Lyons (including an author Q/A)

Ellen's Broom
Interest Level: Grades K-3
Hardback: 32 
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated

What to expect: A heartfelt story highlighting a unique family tradition found in the African-American culture.

Ellen's Broom is a "rare story about family and the meaning of freedom". Growing up, I've been to several wedding where "jumping the broom" was a part of the ceremony. I assumed it was just what people did when they got married. It wasn't until I read a short story by one of my favorite authors, J. California Cooper, that I learned the meaning behind the unique African American tradition. Kelly Starling Lyons captures this tradition as Ellen explains the significance behind the broom that hangs above her family's fireplace. She explains that during the time of slavery, enslaved couples would have small wedding ceremonies. They would place a broom on the ground and jump over it together to solidify their union. Although this was not recognized as a "legal" marriage, it is what enslaved Africans in America did to seal their marital bond. Told during the reconstruction era, Ellen's and her parents learned in church that families now have the opportunity to register their marriages, making them legal. In this heartwarming story, Ellen and her sister excitedly watch as their parents and other former slaves joyfully make their way to the courthouse. As Ellen's parents register their marriage they celebrate this freedom with a a symbol from their past, a decorated broom. 

This is an enjoyable love story that shares the journey and the strength of African Americans and the power of love and family. It is a great way to talk about a difficult time in a comfortable manner. Ellen's Broom touches on a part of history that is rarely shared when discussing the dark side of slavery. Told through a child's voice this story shows the love and faith that kept families going during this time. I recommend this book as a classroom treasure and as an addition to any child's personal library. I always give books as matter the occasion. This will definitely be a wedding gift this spring; I believe this is not only a children's book, but also a sweet part of history! 

                              Watch on Youtube

I had the opportunity to catch up with Kelly Starling Lyons. She was more than willing to answer a few questions that I could share with my readers and aspiring writers! She has two new books that were recently released, Tea Cakes for Tosh  and Hope's Gift. Read her mini Q and A session below and get the journey behind the stories:

Do any of the characters in the stories reflect yourself, your children or any other family members when you write?

When I write, I draw inspiration from my experiences, relationships and observations. There are pieces of me and people I love in many of the characters I create. In One Million Men and Me, Nia feels proud to see the men standing tall at the Million Man March. I felt like that too. In Tea Cakes for Tosh, Tosh loves his grandma Honey and her golden tea cakes. I was close to my grandma too and her tea cakes were some of my favorite treats.

But I make sure my characters don’t follow my path. They have their own journeys. They are informed by feelings I’ve had, but they’re not me.

How long does it take to write a book?

It all starts with writing the story. The time for that varies. Some drafts take weeks. Others take years. After I do my best on a story, it’s time for the submission process. That can take a long time too. When I’m blessed to get a deal, the work isn’t over. It’s time for revising and making tweaks per my editor’s suggestions. Then if it’s a picture book, the illustrator’s process begins.

So for me, going from idea to finished book has ranged from two to 10 years.

What do you want children to walk away with after reading your book?

I want children to feel affirmed by the stories I write. When I was in elementary school, I rarely saw books for kids featuring characters who looked like me. I rarely read books that celebrated African-American history. I write to help give kids today a different reality. I want them to know that they matter. Their family relationships matter. Their history matters.

How much research do you do prior to writing a book? What type of research do you do?

It depends on the story. When I wrote Ellen’s Broom, I had to research a lot because I didn’t know much about 1866. I looked at cohabitation registers and old photos and illustrations, read slave narratives, letters from Freedmen’s Bureau officers and reference books that explored that era. I tried to make sure the story rang true to the time.

With Tea Cakes for Tosh, the story travels back and forth through time from present to past. I didn’t have to do research for the present-day parts, but I had to double-check the history I was including.

What was one of the most surprising, or most interesting things you have learned while writing a book?

Ellen’s Broom was inspired by a cohabitation register I saw while researching family history. That document was a record of the marriages of freedmen and women.  I was so moved to learn how much registering their marriages meant to them. I knew families were split apart during slavery. But I hadn’t read how much they celebrated the right of having their marriages made legal. It meant everything to them because no one could forcibly separate them again.

How many books have you written?  Out of all of your books, which is your favorite? Which one do you have the deepest connection to?

I have five books. It’s tough to name a favorite. They’re all special to me. But Tea Cakes for Tosh is the one that hits closest to home. It’s inspired by my relationship with my grandma. It means a lot to me to honor her memory and share some of what she gave me in a children’s book. 

For someone aspiring to write full time, what advice would you give them?

I would tell them that building a full-time writing career takes time. Focus on learning about the art of writing for kids. Work hard and create the best story you can. Then, send your baby into the world with a heart full of faith. Believe this is what you’re meant to do.

                                                          Watch on Youtube 

Visit Kelly’s site for discussion and activity guides for her books, printables for kids and information about her author visits:

Join her FaceBook author page for updates about her writing journey and multicultural children’s book recommendations:

Purchase Kelly Starling Lyon's books here:

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