The launch for Kelly Starling Lyons’ new picture book, “One More Dino on the Floor,” will be more than just a reading and a signing; there will be music and cake, crafts and dancing, and a guy in a dinosaur costume. It will be a full-on party, as much a celebration of Lyons’ colorful new book as of the venue hosting her: Saturday’s book launch will be the last author event at Quail Ridge Books before the bookstore closes its current storefront and moves to a temporary North Hills location.
“When I was younger I would sometimes catch the show ‘Cheers,’ and there would be people saying, ‘Norm!’ when Norm came in,” Lyons says. “I thought it would be cool to have a place that would know me when I came in, and that’s what Quail Ridge is.”
Lyons’ books include “Ellen’s Broom” and “Hope’s Gift,” which present historical topics like slavery and reconstruction from an African-American perspective. With its vibrantly colored characters and songlike refrain, “One More Dino on the Floor” seems lighter, yet there is a message of inclusion – particularly when a T-rex shows up and wants to join the party.
We caught up with Lyons to talk about her work.
Q: Tell me about the new book.
A: Usually my books are historical fiction and realistic fiction. I love history, but I also love fantasy. When I was younger that was my favorite genre of literature. I loved “A Wrinkle in Time” and all those kinds of books. I also love science, and I love dance. One day I was surfing online and I saw this science story about paleontologists discovering what they dubbed the “dinosaur dance floor.” They saw these dinosaur footprints that kind of looked like the game “Dance Dance Revolution.” It was all different types of dinosaurs, it was around the watering hole, it was a sandy area, and that got my imagination spinning. I came up with this idea for a fun story about dancing dinosaurs, and I wanted to make it a counting story to make it for younger readers.
Q: When you write for older kids, you cover heavy topics like race and slavery. How do you approach that for a young audience?
A: When I do approach those topics, I think about when I was younger and the images I saw and didn’t see. When I was in elementary school, the only thing I can really remember of slavery in terms of content in my classes was a paragraph in my social studies book, and a picture of enslaved people in fields picking cotton. There was no name, there was no sense of what their story was and who they were. When I am writing about enslaved people, I really want to do the opposite. I want to create fully developed people that kids can connect with.
Q: What are some resources you use to find out what actual slave life was like?
A: Slave narratives. Luckily some of those are digitized, so you can actually read about the experience in their own words. There was a project in the ’30s or ’40s where they went and talked to people who used to be enslaved and were free and they shared what it was like, too, so I used those as well. For “Hope’s Gift,” I went to Stagville Plantation in Durham so I could see firsthand the slaves’ quarters there. I talk to curators. I read books about the time, and I also look at historical images. All of those things I use as I’m trying to create the most accurate picture that I can.
Q: What are some of the responses you’ve had from children and from parents?
A: That’s always the best part, when you talk to kids who really connect with your characters. When I was younger, too, I grew up very rarely seeing a character who looked like me in a children’s book. It means a lot to me when kids say, “That reminds me of the way I wear my hair,” or find some part of the story that resonates with their life.
I think that sometimes having an African-American character featured in a book or on the cover of a book can make people who are not African-American think that book is not for them. But the beauty of children is that they see the ways that they are similar more than they are different. So I love seeing kids of all cultures connect to the lives of African-American kids that I’m writing about.
Q: Are there any other authors doing similar work to yours who you would recommend?
A: My favorite is Jacqueline Woodson. Reading her books was almost like taking a class because of her economy of language and her lyricism and her focus on the emotions of the children. Also, a North Carolina author is Carole Boston Weatherford – she’s amazing and has dozens of books, everything from the first black man to win a NASCAR national race, Wendell Scott, to John Coltrane. Both of those are excellent authors for people who are looking for books that celebrate black history, which is the history of our country.
Meet the author
Kelly Starling Lyons will read from her new book at 2 p.m. Saturday at Quail Ridge Books, 3522 Wade Ave., Raleigh.
Info: 919-828-1588 or quailridgebooks.com