Kelly Starling Lyons, a Raleigh mom of two and children's book author, will mark the launch of her fourth book, "Tea Cakes for Tosh," at a special event at 3 p.m., Saturday, Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh.
Here on Go Ask Mom, we've been celebrating her for the last few weeks as part of our Made by Mom Gift Guide.
"Tea Cakes for Tosh," published by G.P. Putnam's Sons and illustrated by E.B. Lewis, debuted Thursday.
It tells the sweet story of a grandson and his grandmother, who shares how the cookies became part of their family. The grandmother's own grandmother had been a slave, who had hid some of the tea cakes she made for her owners in her apron pockets so her own family could enjoy a few bites. Lyons' words and Lewis' illustrations make for a beautiful picture book.
Lyons tells me that the book is based on the story that her own grandmother told when she was a child. We spoke a bit by email about her new book. Here's our conversation:
Go Ask Mom: Where did the idea come from for your new book?
Lyons: Tea Cakes for Tosh was inspired by my relationship with my grandma. Growing up, I loved eating her special cookies and hearing the story that came with them. My grandma told me about her own grandmother carrying tea cakes in her apron pockets. On working days that were hot and long, she would pull out a couple of tea cakes and pop them into her grandchildren's mouths to make the day a little sweeter. I took the heart of that memory and imagined the story stretched back all the way to slavery.
GAM: Is the recipe in the book from your own family?
Lyons: Unfortunately, my grandma didn't write her recipe down. Unlike my main character Tosh, I did more sampling when I was young than paying close attention to what ingredients she used. So years ago, when I longed for Grandma's tea cakes, I started working on recreating them through relying on my memory of their taste, talking to my mom and aunts and getting hints from old recipes. I felt so good when I debuted them at a family Kwanzaa celebration and relatives told me I got it right.
GAM: Slavery isn't addressed in many children's books, but you tackled it in both Ellen's Broom and Tea Cakes for Tosh. What do you hope children learn about that time period after reading your books?
Lyons: I was drawn to picture book writing through reading children's books that focused on kids in the midst of difficult situations - a girl mourning the death of her grandfather, a child coping with divorce. Kids growing up in any era can understand heartache, loss and joy. Slavery is a tough topic. But the beauty of picture books is that kids can learn about it in a way they can understand. When children read my books, I hope they get a greater understanding of how much family relationships, faith and freedom meant to those who were enslaved and how they could turn every day things - a broom, a cookie - into a meaningful symbol.
GAM: How long did it take to go from idea to published book?
Lyons: I wrote the first draft of Tea Cakes for Tosh back in 2002. So it took 10 years to go from idea to finished book. The story has changed a lot since then. In my early drafts, Tosh was teased for bringing Honey's tea cakes to school. They didn't look as cool as his friend's store-bought treats. When he learned the story of how the tea cakes became part of his family, his pride grew. An editor at Children's Book Press encouraged me to up the ante with the plot. That's when I made the focus on memory - how family stories and traditions are shared and can be lost if they're not passed down and preserved.
In the beginning, I received rejections. Then, after revising the story, I started getting notes of encouragement from editors who liked the story. But they didn't make an offer. I'm so grateful my editor Stacey Barney believed in Tea Cakes for Tosh. Illustrator E.B. Lewis brought the story to life in such an amazing way. I love how he uses color to signal important changes and how he infuses his art with such detail and realism. I feel blessed.
GAM: What's your advice for others who have ideas for children's books?
Lyons: Believe your story will find a home. On your journey to create a children's book, you may get many nos. But all it takes is one yes.
GAM: Do you have more projects in the works?
Lyons: My next book, Hope's Gift, debuts on Dec. 27. It's a picture book illustrated by Don Tate.
Watch a trailer for the book here:
Go Ask Mom is featuring a dozen local moms as part of our Made by Mom Gift Guide. Check back on Monday for our next featured mom!