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Go Ask Mom

New 'Jada Jones' chapter book series for young readers set in Raleigh, launches this week

Posted September 17
Updated September 18

Kelly Starling Lyons, children's book author

Kelly Starling Lyons, an acclaimed children's author and Triangle mom, has a new chapter book series out that's set right here in Raleigh and features a smart, spunky main character that my young reader has fallen in love with.

Books 1 and 2 of the Jada Jones series, "Jada Jones: Rock Star" and "Jada Jones: Class Act," debut Tuesday. They're published by Penguin Workshop and illustrated by award-winning artist Vanessa Brantley-Newton, who lives in Charlotte.

Lyons will celebrate the launch at 2 p.m., Sept. 30, at a party at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh's North Hills. Brantley-Newton will join in the fun to talk about her art. Lyons will talk about her stories. Both will take questions. There also will be a craft, refreshments and prizes donated by Gem Wagon Miners in Youngsville. The event is free, but, to get a book signed by Lyons and Brantley-Newton, you'll need to purchase either of the Jada Jones books from Quail Ridge to get a ticket for the signing line.

Go Ask Mom readers may be familiar with Lyons, who has written some beautiful pictures books, including "Tea Cakes for Tosh" and "Ellen's Broom." I've written about her before, too. Here's a Q&A with more information about her latest work, best for kids ages 6 and up.

Go Ask Mom: You're known for your picture books, but have a new chapter book series out. What made you decide to write a chapter book series? Who is it intended for?

Kelly Starling Lyons: A couple of years ago, I won a grant from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators to do research for a nonfiction story. The judge was an editor who invited me to send an early chapter book for her consideration. I've mostly written picture books, but my first book, NEATE: Eddie's Ordeal, was a chapter book. I was thrilled to have a chance to write another story in that genre.

The typical audience for a chapter book is first through third graders. My daughter is in middle school, but she loved chapter books when she was younger. I thought about the great series she read starring black girls like Ruby & The Booker Boys, Nikki & Deja and Dyamonde Daniel and remembered how she longed for more. I'm honored that the Jada Jones series will help fill that void.

GAM: Tell us about Jada Jones. In the first book, "Jada Jones: Rock Star," she faces some pretty familiar battles for younger kids.

KSL: Jada Jones is a bright, big-hearted, African-American fourth grader who loves science and her friends and family. When Jada's BFF Mari moves from Raleigh to Phoenix, she feels lost and has to make new friends. That means navigating tough issues like getting along with a girl who seems prickly and finding ways to compromise when working on a group science project.

GAM: What was your inspiration for the series?

KSL: The Jada Jones series was inspired by my daughter and the beautiful diverse groups of kids I've met on school visits. They're creative, smart, funny, loving, unsure at times. I haven't seen many chapter books starring children like them. I wanted to make Jada a character who was beautifully and uniquely herself and a friend to all readers.

GAM: You've worked hard to write and lift up books that feature African American and other diverse characters, who are rarely main characters in children's books. So it's no surprise that Jada happens to be African American. Why is it so important for kids to see books that feature all kinds of characters?

KSL: Children's literature scholar Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop says that books can be "windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors." You can look through books into other lives. You can see yourself. You can feel like you're transported into the story world. Readers need all of that. But sadly, kids of color don't see enough mirrors in literature. If the stories they read rarely reflect their lives, history and dreams, how does that make them feel about themselves? On the flip side, how does it make kids feel who rarely see worlds outside their own reality? It's important for kids to know they matter and feel connected to each other.

GAM: Will we read more about Jada? What's next for the series and you?

KSL: I hope so. Crossing my fingers that kids enjoy her as much as I enjoyed creating her.

Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.

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