CHICAGO — Representation matters is the motto for Brown Babies Books, a non-traditional bookstore with a special emphasis on offering a diverse collection of books to boost self-esteem, confidence and compassion in children of color.

Chicago native Tameca Lyons said the early childhood classic “Corduroy” takes her down memory lane.

“This was the first time I saw myself in a book,” Lyons said.

While most readers gravitate towards the teddy bear named Corduroy, Lyons connected with the young Black character named Lisa.

“For the most part, that’s how my mother used to do my hair, the bangs and the press and comb,” Lyons said.

Lyons, a mom who works as a college career counselor, said she’s always dreamed about owning a bookstore but didn’t think it would happen until retirement.

“It’s one of those dreams that you have as a kid and you say ‘Oh one day I’ll open a bookstore,'” Lyons said.

One day came sooner than expected. In April 2018, Lyons officially started Brown Babies Books.

It’s an online and pop-up bookstore for, but not limited to, children and teens of color.

Lyons hopes her selection helps young readers recognize they matter and creatively exposes them to other cultures.

From her home office, Lyons carefully handpicks her book inventory, which all showcases characters, authors and illustrators of colors.

“We are a BIPOC bookstore,” Lyons said. “I want to make sure that there’s representation. There’s a big need, you know, a lot of parents are looking for this, a lot of teachers are looking for this.”

During a recent mom’s outing at Marion Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, she introduced new customers to her collection.

If you don’t catch her at a pop-up event, she’s just a click away.

Brown Babies Books also offers a variety of age-appropriate titles focused on more challenging topics, like race and sexual identity.

Lyons said she’s shipped books to every state in the U.S. Many of those orders going to customers in areas with book bans.

“It’s like, ‘Ok, I can’t get it at the library or they don’t want to teach it at school, I’m responsible as a parent to make sure my child is educated and informed and we’re having these discussions at home and they know they can find me,'” Lyons said.

Lyons said studies show the more children read, the better they become as readers.

She believes children’s literacy rates can improve if students are offered selections that provide representation.

She said her next big business goal is to open a physical bookstore.