Inspired by her own family’s heritage, author Kelly Starling Lyons children’s book “Going Down Home With Daddy” focuses on the importance of family, tradition and family reunions.
“The idea for my latest book was first sparked when my husband took me to a gathering at his grandma’s house in rural Georgia,” Starling Lyons said. “Set on countless acres, every piece of land held memories. This land had been in their family for generations. There were goats and cows, pecan trees, and the smokehouse.
“The setting itself was a character and as I took it all in, my mind spun with possibilities. I felt the joy of family members who came back home. Everyone there reminisced and reconnected. Being there reminded me of when my grandma would take me to the land in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania. My family wood come together at Woods Grove, named for her dad, for reunions and fun.
“My mom would share stories of drinking water from the spring, picking blackberries, being captivated by stories and dancing into the night,” she added. “I found my way into the story when my husband and I brought our kids to visit. I began to look at the tradition through their eyes. What did coming down home mean to them? What would they remember and pass on?”
In the 32-page picture book illustrated by Daniel Minter, a young boy named Lil Alan tries to figure out the perfect tribute to give his great-grandma for their annual family reunion.
While everyone else in his family is preparing something special for Granny’s anniversary celebration “down home,” Lil Alan’s weekend is marked by memories connected to the land and his family, those who are still alive and ancestors that have passed on. Ultimately, he gifts a lesson that emphasizes the legacy of love that brings them together as a family.
“My son was the inspiration behind the main character Alan even though it is fictionalized,” Starling Lyons said. “I took his curiosity about history and his desire to always want to be a part of things as the jump off point for this character. In addition to the story line, which represents heritage, family, and tradition, what really brings this story together are the illustrations.
“Daniel did my illustrations for a previous book of mine ‘Ellen Broom,’ he did an amazing job for that book and this one,” she added. “Daniel is from rural Georgia, so he was really connected to the story. He put so much emotion and symbolism into every page. I just love the thoughtfulness and the intentional way he connected the story back to Africa. He really brought the meaning of the story to life in new and unexpected ways.”
Sterling Lyons said that through this book, she’s hoping that children will want to know more about their own family history.
“I think it’s crucial for kids to know about the struggles of the past and also the things that we’ve overcome and went on to achieve,” Sterling Lyons said. “There’s an African proverb that says ‘when an elder dies, a library burns to the ground.’ The only way for that to stop is to make sure kids are keeping their family history alive.
“When I was younger, I was a kid that would sit with my grandparents and hear stories about the Great Migration and how their parents had come to Pittsburgh. Family reunions also played a huge role in my life. We still have them every year and I’m actually on the planning committee for our family. It’s something that I cherish.
“Family reunions connects us and shows that we stand strong together, always,” she added. “They celebrate the ties that bind us together. It’s a time together to eat good food, and celebrate what makes you kin. Reunions are all about family roots, resilience and rejoicing.”
“Going Down Home With Daddy (2019, Peachtree Publishers; $16.95, 32 pages)