GUEST POST: How The Million Man March Inspired a Picture Book, by Kelly Starling Lyons

As soon as I heard about the Million Man March, I knew I had to go. My mission as a writer was to give voice to people whose stories too often go unsung. Here was the chance to feature young, African-American men and talk to them about what this March meant and why they wanted to come together and be counted.

At that time, there was so much negative news in the media – stories about gangs, about young men going to prison. I was excited about the chance to highlight something positive and show people a different picture. Everywhere I went, I heard men and teens asking each other: Are you going? They would show the world that one million black men could unite in peace, purpose and love.

Some journalist friends and I drove to Washington, D.C. from Syracuse, NY. We knew the March would be special. But nothing could have prepared us for what we saw. My skin tingled as we walked onto the Washington Mall and Black men covered the grounds like a beautiful tapestry. Rich and poor, young and old, men sang, hugged, laughed, rallied and prayed together.  There was peace all around.

The teens I interviewed told me that this day would stay with them forever. In school, they said, someone might be ready to fight if you bumped into them. But at the March, they told me, everyone said, ‘Excuse me, brother.” They talked about feeling inspired to go back home and make a difference. They were filled with so much hope.

I watched fathers – and mothers – walk with their arms around their sons. Those boys looked so proud to be part of history. Then, I saw a little girl walk past the Reflecting Pool clutching her daddy’s hand. Her eyes glittered like diamonds. She looked like a princess in a sea of kings. Those images spoke to me. I felt that fostering that closeness between father and child was part of what the March was about.

Years later when I began writing for children, the memory of that little girl and her dad came back to me. What if I imagined what the March was like for her? What if the little girl was the storyteller sharing the story of her dad and all of the men who made history that day? I named my character Nia, because I felt that she was there for a reason, just like me.

I was moved to write the story because all kids need positive images. Even today, there are too few stories that celebrate African-American dads and too many black history stories that remain untold. These are American stories that speak to the rich and diverse fabric of our people.

Writing One Million Men and Me was magical and meaningful. At first, I struggled. The words just wouldn’t flow. I second-guessed myself and wondered if I could do justice to something as amazing as the March. Then, inspired by black men I saw hugging and talking at a fatherhood conference, I gave it another try. I sat down at my computer and let Nia be my guide. Something electric happens when you surrender to the story. All of those feelings of pride, hope and love surrounded me as I saw the March and my character’s father through her eyes.

Today, I love going into schools and sharing One Million Men and Me. Often, I start with a slideshow of images from the March. Kids can’t believe how many men stood together. They point and gasp. They smile when they see the pictures of kids who were there too.

Then, before I read the story, I ask the children to share with me special times they’ve spent with fathers and father-figures. They talk about sweet moments like dancing with daddy, going for a ride with grandpa or fishing with an uncle. Then, I read the story and they get how wonderful Nia must have felt to be there with her father the day one million black men united as one.

To hear an excerpt on One Million Men and Me in French, click here! Click here for the Spanish version. 🙂

One Million Men and Me Book Trailer

About today’s guest:

Kelly Starling Lyons, a Pittsburgh native, is a children’s book author whose mission is to transform moments, memories and history into stories of discovery. One Million Men and Me was her first picture book. She is also the author of NEATE: Eddie’s Ordealand has two forthcoming picture books with G. P. Putnam’s Sons. The first, Ellen’s Broom, debuts January 2012. The second, Tea Cakes for Tosh, comes out that fall.

For more information on Kelly Starling Lyons, click on the following links:

Kelly’s Blog, Kuumba, for the complete schedule of her blog tour and to win prizes. The winners will be drawn on October 16!
Kelly’s Website
Kelly’s Facebook Page

Updated on 6/29/2011

GUEST POST: Inside the Story Circle, by Linda Boyden

In July of 1992, a group of Native American writers and storytellers convened in Norman, Oklahoma.  As a result, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers was formed the following year.  Today, Wordcraft Circle has active members from forty states, three Canadian provinces, and two countries representing more than 135 sovereign Indigenous Nations/tribes.

Wordcraft ‘s unique purpose, to ensure that the voices of Native writers and storytellers–past, present, and future–are heard throughout the world, urges members to “return their gift” of creativity by mentoring and volunteering both within Wordcraft Circle and their local communities as well.

In that spirit I would like to share some ideas to consider when choosing books on Native Americans for children.

~ Begin by reading “Through Indian Eyes, The Native Experience in Books for Children,” edited by Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale ©1998. This is a comprehensive overview of many children’s books in print about Native Americans.  It gives reviews, both positive and negative, and is an invaluable source in helping parents, teachers and librarians make intelligent and sensitive choices. Also visit their related website, www.oyate.org.  Another excellent source book is Lessons From Turtle Island by Guy W. Jones and Sally Moomaw published by Redleaf Press, ©2002.

~ Check alphabet books, making sure they do not contain an “I is for Indian” or “E is for Eskimo” type of page.  Most publishers of today are aware of this, but many libraries and used bookstores have older books in their stacks with such entries.

~Read or peruse what your children/students read, preferably beforehand. Don’t choose books in which the Native American characters sport ridiculous names, such as “Chief Big Foot.”  A Boy Called Slow, the picture book biography of the Hunkpapa Lakota warrior, Sitting Bull, by Joseph Bruchac is a great way to help non-Indians understand the significance of Native American names.

~Avoid books whose Indian characters speak in what Beverly Slapin calls Early Jawbreaker, such as “Me go…Ugh…Me see ‘em.”

~ However, don’t discard classic children’s literature, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series, because of the bias.  Instead, address the issue and use the biased sentiments as a springboard for discussion or debate. Have children dig deeper to discover what caused Ma and other settlers to fear and hate Indians.  Contrast that point of view with Pa’s.  Explore and expand the role of the Osage warrior, Soldat du Chene, in “Little House on the Prairie”.

~ Words such as “squaw,” “papoose,” and “brave” are regarded by many Native people as racial epithets and as such are inappropriate to use.  If found, tell children the truth:  at one point in history these words were used; today, however, they are offensive to most Native Americans.

~Make sure that Indian characters are not portrayed as bloodthirsty savages, simpletons needing to be rescued or discovered, cute toys/mascots, or illustrated as Caucasians who are merely colored brown–or worse–in red.

~Native people of long ago did NOT all live in tipis. Homes, clothing, hairstyles, regalia* and customs differed according to each region and tribal affiliation.

~Native people of today are VISIBLE and live very much the same way as most other Americans. Many still live a traditional lifestyle and balance the two.

~Many objects, such as sand paintings, masks, drums, pipes, or rattles, are considered by most Native Americans to be sacred and should not be used as classroom crafts.  A little research will yield much respect.

~Songs like, “Ten Little Indians” are not cute; they are demeaning and relegate human beings to the status of pets or animals.  Instructing students to sit “Indian-style” on the floor is also inappropriate.  Ask your primary students to crisscross or sit on their pockets instead.

~Do attend local powwows, which are Native American social gatherings.  Many reserves or reservations have museums that are good resources for educating yourself about American Indian cultures.  Explore websites, such as Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers www.wordcraftcircle.org and resource websites such as Hanksville, www.hanksville.org which provides a comprehensive listing of contemporary Native writers or Native Languages, a website that preserves Native languages and cultures at www.native-languages.org.

*Note: please do not refer to ceremonial clothing as costumes because costumes are items to be worn for Halloween etc. In contrast, many powwow regalia have been handed down from one generation to the next. Almost all regalia has been hand-made by family members.

Once enlightened, I believe we cannot go backwards.  Racism and stereotypes hurt both in the present tense and in the future.  Be informed to make better choices. Read as much as you can, but be selective in your choices, keeping in mind that much in print has not been written from the Indian point of view.

Finally, let this be your guide:  imagine you are the Indian child sitting within the story circle.  Imagine how the words and pictures of the book you have chosen will impact her as well as the non-Indian friend sitting beside her.

About today’s guest
Linda Boyden has spent most of her adult life leading children to literacy.  From 1970-1997, she taught in elementary schools, receiving her master’s in Gifted and Talented Education in 1992 from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.   In 1997, Linda decided to change careers and abandoned full-time teaching for full-time writing.  Her first picture book, The Blue Roses, debuted in 2002.  It was the recipient of Lee and Low Books’ first New Voices Award, the 2003 Paterson Prize, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers’ Book of the Year, Children’s Literature, 2002-2003, and was included on the prestigious CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center) 2003 Choices list of recommended titles. In 2006, her “Grammy Linda” preschool storytelling DVD was released.  Since 2007, she has written and illustrated her second and third picture books, Powwow’s Coming (2007) and Giveaways, An ABC of Loanwords from the Americas, (Fall, 2010) both from the University of New Mexico Press.

Linda is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers.  She enjoys doing author visits and storytelling at schools and libraries across the country.

For more information about Linda and her work, please visit www.lindaboyden.com