Looking for Student Stories

*This post has been updated.

The pandemic has been tough on everyone, particularly children, but bravery, perseverance and brilliance deserve to be celebrated. In trying times, hope always shines through.

In that spirit, we’re launching a writing contest to honor amazing kids like you.

Did you earn a new belt in martial arts? Nail a gymnastics move? Cope with a friend moving away? Deal with the illness or loss of someone you loved?

Share a challenge you recently faced and how you overcame it.


Open to Wake, Durham and Orange county students in 4th-5th grade.

Essays must be 250 words or less.

Submissions accepted November 1-22. More information and link to submit here.

Must be submitted by an authorized adult (parent, caregiver, teacher, etc.)

Winners will be announced on December 15, 2021.


1st-3rd place winners: $50 Target card for 1st, $25 Target card for 2nd, $10 Target card for third. All will receive a Lulu bookmaking kit, notebook, pencil, bookmark, signed book written by each judge (Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon by Kelly Starling Lyons, Escape from Hurricane Katrina by Judy Allen Dodson and How to Build a Story . . . Or, The Big What If by Frances O’Roark Dowell), The Word Collector (the birthday book donated from Book Harvest) and a T-shirt donated by Quail Ridge Books.

4th-10th place winners: Books mentioned above, a Lulu notebook, pencil and bookmark and a T-shirt.

Writing Tips:

Start your story strong by using a hook to grab your reader. 

Paint a picture with your words. 

Take your time with descriptions. Stretch out moments so we can feel what’s happening.

Add figurative language like metaphors, similes and onomatopoeia. 

Show your emotions. Ex: Instead of saying you were happy, write a scene where you’re grinning and jumping up and down. 

Share what the experience meant to you. How did you grow? change? What will you always remember? Did family, friendship, determination, hard work, team spirit, patience make the difference?


Piedmont Laureate Kelly Starling Lyons and children’s book authors Judy Allen Dodson and Frances O’Roark Dowell


Lulu, Book Harvest, Quail Ridge Books, United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County, Raleigh Arts Commission, Durham Arts Council, Orange County Arts Commission,

Questions about this contest should be directed to: Kelly Starling Lyons at email@kellystarlinglyons.com.

Freedom to Read

I’ve visited schools and libraries around the country. There’s nothing like seeing a child grinning or listening raptly as you read. Or watching them clutch a cherished book in their hands. It fills my heart when my books and others are shared and appreciated. But what happens when they’re banned?

I found out recently that Sing a Song: How Lift Every Voice & Sing Inspired Generations was on a list of books and diversity resources “frozen” by the Central York School District in York, PA. I was disgusted and outraged. I’ve been to York as the speaker for their 1000 Books Before Kindergarten celebration. I shared my Ty’s Travels easy reader, All Aboard, and picture book, One More Dino on the Floor, with parents, children and educators. I met so many loving people who care about reading and understand the importance of diversity. Thinking of them broke my heart.

Like people around the country, I ached for the children and educators who were being denied access to titles celebrating the beauty of diversity and centering history that has been marginalized for far too long. The list included books by NC creators like Around Our Way on Neighbor’s Day by Tameka Fryer Brown; Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut and I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James; Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford and Refugee by Alan Gratz.

Thanks to activism by people in York including inspiring high school students and national attention, the resources are available again. But the threats to reading freedom in the U.S. and around the globe never stop. Just yesterday, one of my friends at The Brown Bookshelf told me about a petition to try to halt a virtual visit by Newbery medalist and Coretta Scott King Author Award winner Jerry Craft to schools in Katy, TX. His graphic novels, New Kid and Class Act, are beloved by countless children.

Books by Black, Native and authors of color and LGBTQIA authors are among those regularly challenged. Here’s a list of some of the top 10 banned titles for the last several years.

Looking for ways to help? Here are resources to celebrate Banned Books Week and show support all year long. Also, please show love to children’s book authors in our state and beyond. Check out Writers and Illustrators of North Carolina (WINC) and SCBWI-Carolinas. Consider donating books and time to local organizations like Book Harvest.

Our kids need us.

Want to know what I’m up to or check out kidlit events? Here’s a list:

Zipping and Zooming in Henderson

I love StoryWalks. I’ve been blessed to have a couple of my books featured on trails – Going Down Home with Daddy in Philly and Sing a Song in NJ.

Now, there’s going to be one close to home. A StoryWalk for Ty’s Travels: Zip, Zoom opened Saturday at Fox Pond Trail in Henderson, NC. I participated in the celebration by doing a program at Perry Memorial Library that morning. Thank you to the library team for choosing Zip, Zoom as the first book featured. And thanks to award-winning illustrator Nina Mata whose depiction of Ty and his world are magic.

Details here.

Celebrating a new picture book about Ernie Barnes, a Durham native son

Join me at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, October 19 for a conversation with award-winning children’s book creator, Don Tate, sponsored by Durham County Public Library and the Durham Arts Council. He is the author and illustrator of a wonderful new picture book about Durham native son, Ernie Barnes, called Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes. There will also be an online gallery of art from that book hosted by the Durham Arts Council.

Details here.

Meet and Greet Children’s Book Authors at Quail Ridge Books

Judy Allen Dodson’s debut children’s book, Escape from Hurricane Katrina, came out in July. She’ll celebrate the release of her Junior Library Guild-honored title with a meet and greet/signing at Quail Ridge Books on Sunday, October 10 from 2-4 p.m.

Details here.

I have Office Hours on the Piedmont Laureate FaceBook page every second Monday from noon to 1 p.m. In celebration of my new chapter book, Jada Jones: Sky Watcher, I’m having a meet and greet and signing at Quail Ridge Books on Saturday, November 20 from 2-4 p.m. I’m happy to answer questions about writing children’s books, share diverse book recommendations and sign any of my books.

Details here.

So You Want to Write a Children’s Book

I’m teaching a class on Sunday, November 10 at the North Carolina Writers Network fall conference called So You Want to Write a Children’s Book. Have you dreamed of writing for kids? Start your journey with me in a workshop designed to introduce you to the field. Gain an understanding of children’s book genres. Mine your life for ideas. Get insight into the business of writing for kids including submitting and persevering.

Details here.

School Days

School is back in session. As kids return to classrooms, children’s book creators are getting ready for author and illustrator visits. Sharing with young readers is an honor and a joy. The pandemic brought countless challenges, but also fresh ways to connect. Authors and illustrators do readings, share their publishing journeys, give writing workshops and lead discussions about themes in their books through platforms like Zoom and Google Meet. They use tools like jamboard, polls and the chat to make sessions interactive and keep students engaged.

In Publishers Weekly’s insightful article, The Future of School Author Visits, award-winning North Carolina author Alan Gratz shared that he loves the energy of in-person visits but found ways to bring some elements of live presentations to the online space: “Some of his techniques translated seamlessly to Zoom—an in-person show of hands became an online poll. Some kids were more willing to participate in this more anonymous format.”

Whether virtual or in-person following Covid safety protocols, author visits are here to stay. They’re a chance for young people to not just explore books in different ways, but to meet the people who create them – and realize they can tell their stories too.

Looking for NC authors and illustrators to invite for visits?

Here are some resources:

Writers and Illustrators of North Carolina

SCBWI Carolinas

United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County

Durham Arts Council

Arts and Sciences Council

Children’s Literature Article to Check Out:

In Their Own Words: What Christine Day and Andrea L. Rogers Want You to Know By Kara Stewart

School Library Journal will be featuring Kara Stewart’s book reviews and interviews with Native creators in their “In Their Own Words” series. Stewart (Sappony) is a reading specialist for Orange County Schools, Native educational equity consultant and 2014 Lee & Low Books New Voices Honor Award winner. She was the 2020 United Tribes of North Carolina Indian Educator of the Year and has been a literacy coach and teacher for more than two decades.

New Releases from Triangle Creators:

Spring and summer brought some wonderful new titles from Triangle children’s book creators. Here are a few stand-outs to consider adding to your collection.

The Boy & the Sea by Camille Andros, illustrated by Amy June Bates

“The text has universal themes of longing for peace and answers to life’s questions. . .Watercolor seascapes are beautiful, with shells, crabs, and reflections in wet sand. A warm-hearted story that many will find solace in.” ― School Library Journal

Escape from Hurricane Katrina by Judy Allen Dodson

Junior Library Guild selection

“Hurricane Katrina was one of the most destructive storms in American history. In this fictional tale, daring twins Jo Jo and Sophie battle the raging floodwaters in a fight for their lives.” ― From the publisher

How to Build a Story . . . Or, The Big What If If by Frances O’Roark Dowell

“. . . Both encouraging and realistic (“Writing is like a sport: it takes practice to get good”), [Dowell] confines standard writing advice (“show don’t tell,” etc.) to an appendix and instead confronts the real monster that devours many an aspiring writer: quitting before the end. Fresh, interesting, and unique . . . ” ― Kirkus

Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood by Kwame Mbalia

New York Times Bestseller

 “Luminous . . . Filtering perennial subjects such as friendships, gender identity, and family through the lenses of magic, science, space travel, superheroes, and more, this is an exuberant celebration of carefree Black experiences; while it will especially resonate with Black readers, any reader will appreciate how this genre-bending collection expands the horizons of what joy for Black boys can be.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Fall Events:

Want to pick up tips about children’s book writing and make literary connections? Two conferences are coming this fall.

Creating Together: SCBWI Carolinas 2021 Fall Conference (September 24-26)

I’m on the Creating Success with Empowering Characters panel on Sunday, September 26. The panel is moderated by children’s book author Judy Allen Dodson, who is head of special collections for the State Archives of NC, and includes award-winning Charlotte children’s book creators Alicia D. Williams and Gordon C. James. 

NC Writers Network Fall Conference (November 19-21)

I’m leading a So You Want to Write a Children’s Book workshop. Stay tuned for registration information and more details.

Everybody Books

The first picture book I saw with a black child on the cover was Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. I didn’t see it as a kid during library storytime or in a classroom at school. It came across my desk at work. I was a writer in my 20s.

I looked at the sweet-faced girl on the cover with ballies and barrettes and smiled as I thought about my nieces, my cousins and myself at that age. Then, I opened the book and was blown away by the power of the story. A child’s quest to discover what people in her neighborhood consider beautiful turns into a journey of self-empowerment. The girl transforms her surroundings and the beauty inside her heart radiates for all to see.

As soon as I finished reading Something Beautiful, I saw picture books in a new way. They were moving, evocative, full of heart. They could change someone’s life by showing them the power they hold inside. As a Black woman reading a picture book about a Black girl for the first time, I knew I had add my voice.

A picture book can take children who are unsung in literature and center their stories so they’re heard and seen.  Something Beautiful is my example of a perfect picture book. It’s lyrical, begs to be read again and again, has layers of meaning, outstanding illustrations and lingers in your mind long after you’ve closed the book. Picture books are important because they speak to something deep inside. They move, affirm, inspire and heal. They give us back to ourselves.

Traditionally, the age range advertised for picture books is 4-8. But sticking to that guideline means missing out on books that have lots to offer everyone. That’s why I love the term “everybody books.” That’s truly what picture books are to me.

Want to learn about important people and events that are too often overlooked? Check out nonfiction and historical fiction picture books. You’ll be amazed at the engaging stories and depth of research. Want to explore friend and family relationships, tackle tough subjects with children or show blooming understanding between generations? Got you there too. Want to laugh, cry, feel your heart being warmed or be chilled to the bone? Covered.

The next time, you’re looking for a good book to share with kids of any age or to read yourself, give yourself a treat and pick up a picture book.

Here’s the list of picture book nominees for the 2021 North Carolina Children’s Book Award to get you started: http://nccba.blogspot.com/2020/07/2021-picture-book-and-junior-book.html. I’m honored that my book, Going Down Home with Daddy, is included.

Slide Into Reading Fun

Beware the summer slide. That’s a warning about the decline in reading skills that kids can experience when they’re out of school for the summer. How do we cure it? Books. Hooray for reading!

But telling a kid to pick up a book because they need it is much different than inviting them to have a blast in a story of their choosing. What if we flipped the script? Instead of being a warning, what if the summer slide was a metaphor for a whoosh into adventure, drama, history and magic? What if instead of using books as medicine, we offered them as opportunities for kids to fly?

June has been full of celebrations: LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, Juneteenth, Black Music Month, Father’s Day. There are amazing book lists that explore these themes and many others. Here are a few to help kick off the summer slide into reading fun:

Skip the Screen

These titles were recommended by NC history museums. Books by NC authors including Tameka Fryer Brown, Michelle Lanier, Frances O’Roark Dowell, Carole Boston Weatherford, Kwame Mbalia and me are listed.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Summer Reading 2021

Get a We Love Reading yard sign and earn a free book by reading this summer. There are book lists, details about local story walks and much more.

Durham County Library Summer of Learning

Free books, free meals and the chance to win a tablet. Win-win-win. Check it out.

Wake County Public Library – Tails and Tales

Log your reading and collect points. Weekly drawings.

15 Books for Pride Month – Black Children’s Books & Authors

MrsChavezReads – Books for Dads!

Juneteenth Children’s Books

19 Books for African American Music Appreciation Month

13 Summer Reading Programs Where Kids Can Earn Free Books, Gift Cards & More

Always dreamed of creating a children’s book of your own? Register for my free Wake County Public Library workshop, So You Want to Write a Children’s Book. It will be held virtually on July 6 from 6:30-8 p.m. and is capped at 25 attendees. Learn more here.

You Matter

This post is for the kids. The ones who feel unseen and unheard. The ones who feel less than compared to others. The ones who worry that a better day will never come.

I’m here to tell you that your voice, your smile, your beauty, your brilliance fill this world with hope and love. Hold your head high, young heroes. Now strut. That’s right. Do you. For real. Bump what people think. Put some swag into your walk. Put some stank into your steps. You just made them look. Guess what they saw? A leader. A trailblazer. A difference maker. That’s what you are. Check you out. Proud, brave and bold.

I went to a violin vigil recently put on by the United Strings of Color. Between the stirring violin performances, young poets stood up and gave voice to their feelings. As they shared their pieces about the pain of colorism, the hurt of racism, the heartbreak of kids their age being murdered, something important was born. Each poet became a beacon, radiating courage, commitment and capacity to bring change.

You’re a light too. What’s your story? Put your heart on the page. Share your struggle and your song. Give us the weary blues and the sweet sunshine. Show us who you are.

Not sure how to start? Look in the mirror and say that you believe in yourself. You know what? Say it and then shout it. Really mean it. Then, sit down and get to work. Write your thoughts in a notebook. Type them on your computer or phone. Record a rap breaking down how you feel.

Do you, my friends. That’s what the world needs. Amazing, incredible, special you.

Here are some places to share your voice:



Skipping Stones accepts essays, stories, letters to the editor, riddles and proverbs, etc. Submissions should be typed or neatly handwritten and limited to 750 words and poems to 30 lines. They also accept illustrations, drawings, photos or paintings. Guidelines say to include your name, age and address along with your submission.

Send submission to:

Managing Editor

Skipping Stones

P.O. Box 3939

Eugene, OR 97403

email: editor@SkippingStones.org


The Girls’ Life Web site, http://www.girlslife.com, accepts submissions of articles, poetry and short fiction from writers under the age of 18.

Send submissions to:

Website Editor
Girls’ Life magazine
4529 Harford Rd
Baltimore, MD 21214
email: youwroteit@girlslife.com


”Stone Soup welcomes submissions by young people through age 13. Include your name, age, home address, phone number, and e-mail address if you have one. Please do not include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Send copies of your work, not originals. If we need the original, we will request it. You do not need to include a photo of yourself.”

Send submissions to: 

Stone Soup 
Submissions Dept. 
P.O. Box 83 
Santa Cruz, CA 95063 



The contest is open to students in grades 7-12. Works are judged on originality, technical skill and voice. Categories include science fiction/fantasy, journalism, personal essay/memoir, painting and photography.

Here’s how to enter: https://www.artandwriting.org/awards