Subscribe to SLJ
Bowllan's Blog
Inside Bowllan's Blog

Writers Against Racism: Guest Blogger: Kelly Starling Lyons

Twenty-two years ago, Wade and Cheryl Hudson made a life-changing decision. Frustrated by the low number of African-American children’s books available to share with their son and daughter, they decided to do something about it – create books themselves.

Their commitment to filling the gap and giving not just their kids, but all young people, books that reflected the images and voices of black children helped change the publishing landscape. From early titles that became bestsellers like the AFRO-BETS A B C Book and Bright Eyes, Brown Skin to acclaimed releases like the Coretta Scott King Honor Award-winning title, The Secret Olivia Told Me, Just Us Books, their family-owned and operated publishing company, has created quality literature that celebrates African-American kids.

The Hudsons are pioneers not just in publishing multicultural children’s books, but nurturing authors and illustrators of color too. They’ve given many people – including me – their break.

I first met them when I worked for Ebony magazine. Basil O. Phillips, distinguished photo editor for Johnson Publishing Company and director of special markets and promotions for JPC’s book division, took me to my first American Library Association conference. He introduced me to the Hudsons and showed me their wonderful booth full of books celebrating children of color. I believed in – and admired — their mission.

Years later, I sent Just Us Books a picture book manuscript for consideration. The editorial team turned that story down, but didn’t close the door on me. They invited me to try out for their chapter book series, NEATE. I won the assignment to write about character Eddie Delaney. And like they’ve been to so many authors and illustrators, they became teachers, guiding me through every step of the process.

Editors helped me see my manuscript in new ways. They challenged me to make scenes come to life and compel readers to turn the page. They praised the good parts and worked with me to smooth out the rough ones. On the other side of that process came the reward: I was a published children’s book author.

But the journey didn’t stop there. Just Us Books made another of my dreams come true too. Ever since reading Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, I dreamed of creating a picture book of my own. When I wrote the manuscript for One Million Men and Me and submitted it for consideration, they encouraged me from the start. I didn’t have to explain why it was important to share the story of the Million Man March through the eyes of a girl there with her daddy. Just Us Books understood.

Editors helped me polish the story and add details that would help give children a sense of what it was about: Why was the March significant? What was its purpose? Who were some of the speakers? Those questions helped me turn my poem about a little girl’s experience with her father at the Million Man March into a fully-developed story.

They matched my story with illustrator Peter Ambush who brought the special bond between my main character Nia and her father to life in beautiful and meaningful ways. They sponsored an essay contest that celebrated memorable moments children spent with fathers and father-figures and created a poster of the cover that children treasure. From editing to promotion, the entire Just Us Books team affirmed the book and me.

I am so grateful to Just Us Books for publishing One Million Men and Me. As a kid, I rarely saw books featuring African-American children. Just Us Books gave me the chance to make a difference for kids growing up today. At every step, they’ve been there, guiding me, supporting me. They believed in my story and gave it wings.

So tomorrow, as I celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Million Man March, I’ll be celebrating Just Us Books, too:

Thank you for believing in One Million Men and Me. Thank you for empowering and entertaining children. Thank you for using your time and talent to create change.

Happy anniversary!




  1. What am awesome story. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Stag R Lee says:


  3. So fabulous. Many thanks for this.

  4. Congratulations, Kelly. Wonderful.