Author Spotlight: Valerie Bolling
Dec. 25, 2020
We are thrilled to feature author Valerie Bolling and her debut picture book, LET'S DANCE! illustrated by Maine Diaz (Boyds Mills Press 2020). Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I’ve always loved writing! I remember my grandmother teaching me to write when I was three or four years old. By the time I was in first grade and able to spell and write words on my own, I created simple rhymes in a black and white marble composition book. Writing throughout my school career and adult life has simply been a part of who I am.
When I taught in the elementary classroom, it was difficult to find diverse literature for my students, which inspired me to write. I wrote alongside my students, creating stories in which all children could feel seen and heard, valued and validated.
Congrats on your debut picture book, Let's Dance! Tell us about it and what inspired you.
Let's Dance! is a book that celebrates dances from around the world and the diverse children who enjoy them.
The inspiration for the book is that everyone – or most people – love to dance! Turn on music and watch people – especially young, uninhibited children – start to move. Babies who can barely walk will sway and/or raise their hands. Whenever music is played, my nieces dance. When they were two and four, they even danced while brushing their teeth. Now at ages six and eight, they still love to dance!
The first sentence of my pitch for Let's Dance! was “Dancing is a universal language, even though we all have different ‘accents.’” I thought it would be fun to write the book in rhyme to mimic the rhythms of music and dance movements.
My main goal for the book was to show children from all walks – or dances – of life: a boy in a wheelchair, a girl in hijab, a child in a tutu whose gender is indiscernible. I wanted this book to showcase dance in a way that celebrates diversity – and that leaves no doubt that dancing is indeed for everyone!
What I love is that Jes Negrón, my editor at Boyds Mills & Kane, expanded upon my diverse, inclusive vision by creating a more global theme. Where I saw “Tappity-tap/Fingers snap” as tap dance, she imagined flamenco from Spain. I envisioned the electric slide for “Glide and slide/Side to side,” but Jes suggested long sleeve dancing from China.
Was your road to publication long and windy, short and sweet, or something in between?
I had a short and sweet road to publication with Let's Dance! This book was accepted for publication six months after I started querying it. I didn’t have to make any revisions, except for deleting two stanzas (to fit the 32-page format), and – at my editor’s clever request – writing back matter (two-sentence descriptions for each dance).
It was after publication that the road came to an abrupt halt. My book was released on March 3, and I had my launch celebration on March 7. Less than a week later, schools and libraries were closed, and a week after that we experienced state closures of non-essential businesses and buildings due to COVID-19. Thus, all of my writing events were cancelled. After the momentum leading up to my launch and the day of celebration, it was extremely disappointing to have the road seemingly come to a dead end. Fortunately, I poured myself into scheduling virtual events. At the height of the quarantine, I had the opportunity to share my book, virtually, with children in libraries, bookstores, and schools. In April, I was featured in seven events; in May, I added 25 more; and during the summer months I packed in 37! Thus, in the end, I suppose the journey has remained sweet – just a bit different than I’d imagined.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m always working on something new while simultaneously revising “older” manuscripts. So far, I continue to write solely pictures books, those that rhyme and those that don’t. My books feature Black or multicultural characters and universal themes related to joy and connection. I’m pleased to be able to share that I have two books scheduled for release in 2022 and two more slated for 2023!
Congratulations! What advice would you give to other aspiring authors?
Jump! Go for it! Just write, all right?! Here’s my five-step plan:
1. Read books in the genre you’re writing and about craft.
2. Write as often as you can.
3. Revise even more often.
4. Immerse yourself in writing opportunities and in the writing community by taking a course, joining SCBWI, attending conferences and webinars, joining a critique group, and participating in contests and Twitter pitches.
5. Continue writing, even when you face rejection.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I lived in London for a year from ages 24 - 25. I worked as a volunteer in a hostel for homeless youth and traveled to eight countries in Europe that year.
Where can people find you online?
Valerie Bolling has been an educator for 27 years, and her debut picture book, LET’S DANCE! was published in March. Since her book was released a week before the pandemic shutdown, she has been engaged in virtual storytimes and panels like this one. Immersed in the writing community, Valerie serves as the co-chair of the NESCBWI Equity and Inclusion Team and is a member of SCBWI, the Authors Guild, and NCTE. She is also a 2020 WNDB Mentee and a member of Kid Lit in Color, Black Creators in Kid Lit, #12X12PB, 20/20 Vision Picture Books, and a picture book critique group. Valerie has two books scheduled for release in 2022 and two more slated for 2023. Valerie Bolling’s website
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