Sunday, December 27, 2020

Valerie Bolling: Let's Dance!

Today I’d like to welcome Valerie Bolling, to Lupine Seeds. She’s a master teacher and the debut author of the foot stomping Let’s Dance!, a snap, twirl, and spin through the world’s dances.

Let’s Dance! is your first published book. Congratulations! It’s a romp to read and set my preschool audience off jiggity-jigging.

What was it like to see your book in print?

It was amazing, Linda! After almost two years from the time I signed my contract, I was able to hold the actual hard copy of Let’s Dance! in my hands, and it was a wonderful feeling. I felt a sense of reality, accomplishment, and gratitude. Furthermore, I was thrilled with Maine Diaz’s beautiful illustrations that really made my book “pop.”

Is Let’s Dance! the first book you’ve written? If you’re like most authors, you have manuscripts in the drawer which never reached the public but were valuable because they served as your apprenticeship texts. Can you tell us about your book’s predecessors and your path to publication?

Let’s Dance! is my first book that’s been published, but I have many other manuscripts. Some of them will be published, and some won’t. That’s just the way it works in the publishing world.

The predecessors to Let’s Dance! may never be available for the world to read, but they did spark my pursuit to get a book published, so I have no regrets about writing them. Two were inspired by my nieces, and I recently revised another – so significantly that it’s a different story. I’m hoping that one will get published.

As you know, Linda, the publication journey is different for everyone. Let’s Dance! was acquired as a result of receiving a “like” in a Twitter pitch (#PBPitch) in June 2018 by Jes Negrón, an editor at Boyds Mills & Kane. Jes and I had a phone conversation on July 2; I signed my contract later that month; and the book was published on March 3, 2020.

When I do school visits, I ask students to guess how many times I rewrote my first published piece. (Hint: more than 10, less than 20.) In a short rhyming text like Let’s Dance!, every word has to be just right. Did you have to wrestle with this story to bring it to perfection or did it seamlessly spring into being? How long did that process take?

So far, my stories written in sparse, rhyming text don’t require as many rounds of revision as do my stories written in prose. That said, my first version of Let’s Dance! needed revision. In fact, my first version had a different title: I Love To Dance. An author-librarian-storyteller-friend, Marianne McShane, provided feedback that helped me transform my story and get it submission-ready. I’m forever grateful to her because I didn’t have a critique group at the time.

You’ve said that it was important that your book represented children of diverse backgrounds. Did you find many “mirror” texts when you were growing up? Do you think that modern children’s literature offers a wider cultural perspective to readers?

Unfortunately, Linda, I don’t recall reading any “mirror” books as a child. I loved to read anyway, but I should’ve had the opportunity to see myself in books.

In recent years, there’ve been more diverse books, but we still have a long way to go. According to 2018 statistics reported by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison, only 5% of authors are Black. That means that often when stories have Black characters, the author isn’t Black. (The CCBC didn’t report the percentage of Black illustrators.) We need more diverse representation in the publishing industry and in books. All children deserve to see themselves in books and to learn about others who are different from themselves.

Moreover, I want BIPOC children not only to see themselves in books but also to realize the possibility that they can become authors, contributing to a canon of literature that represents more diverse voices.

Promoting a new book during a pandemic poses special challenges. How did you approach that?

Linda, I approached the promotion of my book like a parent with a newborn. I wanted to hold it close and love on it, but I also wanted to share it and have it bring joy to everyone who held (or heard) it. Thus, I went after book promotion with a sincere commitment. I contacted librarians and bookstore owners; I reached out to bloggers; I responded to requests on social media for authors to read their books to students. I was open to just about anything.

I believed that children needed to hear my book. They needed to see children who looked like themselves as well as those who didn’t. They needed to know that we can all be connected through dance. In the midst of the pandemic shutdown, children actually needed to dance! And they still do.

You’ve been a teacher for over 25 years, working in elementary, middle, and high schools, and now serving as an Instructional Coach, collaborating with teachers to implement strategies which will bring out the best in their students. How has your teaching informed your writing?

The fact that I know kids informs my writing. Children are always at the forefront of my mind as I write. I’m always thinking about what message I want to offer them to dissect –what I want them to take away. I know, however, that children need to make these discoveries on their own.

When I was a classroom teacher, I stressed revision as an essential aspect of the writing process – the most recursive part. As a writer, I constantly revise. Thus, I have become my own student. My former students might find irony, or even humor, in this realization, but they wouldn’t be surprised.

Do you have other projects in the works? Can we expect to see more picture books, more poetry? Or are you exploring other genres?

Linda, I have a number of projects in the works. Currently, I’m starting my research to write a non-fiction picture book.

You can definitely expect more books from me – two are due out in 2022 and two more are slated for 2023. All are picture books, similar in style to Let’s Dance!

Terrific! I can’t wait to read them. Thank you so much for being my guest today. I expect to read many more of your books in the future. If you’d like to learn more about Valerie Bolling, you can visit her website at

Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me, Linda. In addition to my website, readers can connect with me on Twitter and on Instagram




Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Anika Aldamuy Denise: Planting Picture Books


                                                                        (Photo by Stephanie Bernaba)

Anika Aldamuy Denise is the author of an astonishing array of picture books, from the sweet Baking Day at Grandma’s which was illustrated by her husband, Christopher Denise, to the rollicking Monster Trucks. Then came her glittering Carmen books (Staring Carmen and Lights, Camera, Carmen) and her powerful biographies of Latinx women, Planting Stories: the life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre and the newly released A Girl Named Rosita: The Story of Rita Moreno.

Planting Stories racked up no fewer than 15 awards, including the coveted ALA Pura Belpre Honor. A number of Anika’s books have been inspired by her Puerto Rican heritage. While her stories are aimed at young readers, many delve deep. In fact, I recently used her thought-provoking The Love Letter with my adult English Language Learner.

Thank you so much for being my guest today, Anika. I’m in awe of the versatility of your work. What initially led you to writing picture books?

Thanks, Linda! I think it was my husband’s children’s book illustration career and seeing his process of choosing which manuscripts he felt connected to and wanted to illustrate that sparked my desire to try writing a picture book of my own. Though I was a professional writer, I’d never written for children. So I read as many picture books as I could, joined SCBWI, and was fortunate to have a mentor in Chris’s editor at the time, Patti Gauch, who really helped me understand and appreciate the art of writing picture books.

You’ve explored so many avenues with your writing. What was your vision of a career in children’s literature when you began? How has that vision changed? What led you into each new genre?

At first, I wasn’t confident enough to believe a career in children’s books was possible. I didn’t give up my day job(s) and pursued children’s book writing on the side. I remember reaching an inflection point when I realized that if I wanted a meaningful career writing for kids, I had to commit to it fully. So I began researching agents and was fortunate to sign on with Emily van Beek at Folio Literary. She helped me articulate the kinds of stories that excited me. And while I loved writing books for Chris to illustrate (and still do), I also had a desire to explore identity, culture, and girl-power in my stories. I’m not sure my vision changed necessarily. It’s more that I gained the confidence to try new things.

What was it like creating a book with your husband? How was the process different when someone else was illustrating your words?

It’s always such a joy to work on books together. They’re often inspired by our daughters so it’s fun to celebrate and preserve those memories in picture book form. The process is a little different when we work together in that each of us is more involved with the other’s process than we would be if we were working with other people. He helps me develop the manuscript and I consult on sketches and final art. If something isn’t working, he can ask me to tweak the text directly without an editor as go-between.

Your earlier books were fiction, but two of your recent titles have been biographies. How does your approach to a nonfiction differ from your approach to fiction? Do you prefer one over the other?

My approach is different in some ways and similar in others. For both, I need to find the heart of the story, make sure the structure is working, the language is lyrical, and the ending is satisfying. I want both to have kid-appeal and not to feel too adult or (yikes!) boring. With my nonfiction projects, the research component is a heavier lift. But even for fictional picture books I research and fact check. My Google searches are filled with random questions like, “How spikey are hedgehogs?” Ha.

You grew up in Queens, but you live near the water in small-town Rhode Island. Your dad was Puerto Rican and your mom Italian. You and Christopher have three beautiful daughters. How does your personal story echo in your work?

I think my personal story echoes, to different degrees, in every story I write. Food, family, the arts, poetry, language, urban and rural settings are threads that run through my stories and have run through my life.

Planting Stories garnered so much attention and won so many awards. What did that feel like? Can you share some of your most exciting moments?

It was surreal to be honest. I hoped people would read and like it. I knew that even though books existed about Pura Belpré, I had something to add to the literary canon. The journey became especially poignant because I lost my father during the period of researching and writing it. When the book was recognized with awards, I felt proud not only as an author but as my father’s daughter. I knew he was smiling down on me. The most exciting moment was getting “the call” from the Pura Belpré Awards committee. There were so many wonderful Latinx stories out that year. And a book about Belpré had already won an honor. So I wasn’t expecting it. It was evening, not early morning, when the call came. And when I answered, I literally dropped to the floor and could not believe it.

A Girl Named Rosita: The Story of Rita Moreno, Actor, Singer, Dancer, Trailblazer
was just released. Tell us all about it!

It’s an American Dream story and an immigrant’s story. Rita Moreno (Rosita) came here when she was 5 years old from Puerto Rico. Her beginnings were humble. Her mother worked two or three jobs at a time to pay for their tiny apartment and dance lessons for Rosita. Even after she landed Broadway roles and a movie studio contract she was discriminated against as a Puerto Rican woman. There were sacrifices, joys, trials, and triumphs. I hope young readers will enjoy learning about her and feel inspired by her talent and perseverance.

Many of your anticipated author events were cancelled because of the pandemic. How did you deal with that? Did you find other ways to reach out to your readers?

At first, it was really hard. This past summer, ALA was cancelled and that meant not getting to go to the Belpré luncheon and celebrate with the other honorees and my publisher. I had to mourn that. And then I had to move on. There was a new book coming that deserved my attention. Even though I couldn’t do in-person events, with the help of libraries, literacy organizations, and amazing independent booksellers across the country, I was able to connect with readers virtually for story times, panels, and book talks. I’m also offering free story times to classrooms throughout the school year. Teachers can email me for a link to the sign-up sheet and I’ll Zoom into their class, read, and answer a few questions.

What is your advice to those who would like to write picture books?

First, make sure you know what a picture book is. It’s not a chapter book. It’s not a lesson. It’s not that funny story your Aunt Irma told you about the squirrel who keeps getting into her attic. (Well, maybe that’s a start but it’s going to need one or two more key elements—such as a plot.) Pick up a copy of Linda Ashman’s primer The Nuts & Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books. Become a member of your local SCBWI chapter. Read picture books for the joy of it and for the master class they can deliver in 32, 40, or 48 pages. Then give writing one a go. And while you’re writing, think about what you loved in your favorite picture books as a kid. What made you laugh? What made you worry? What made you wonder?

What can we expect from you in the future? More picture book fiction? More biographies? Something entirely new? Are you working on a project now?

I have three new projects in the works. And they are all super-secret right now because they haven’t been announced yet. One is fiction. The other two are nonfiction. And somewhere in a deep, dark, neglected corner of my works-in-progress drawer, there is a middle grade novel, that once I meet all my deadlines, I plan to get back to. Middle grade is the next “new thing” I need to gain the confidence to try. Wish me luck!

Good luck with that middle grade novel. I know you’ll rock it! Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with our readers, Anika.

Thank you for having me, Linda! Be safe and have a happy, healthy holiday season.

You, too, Anika, and all our readers. If you want to find out more about Anika and her books, visit




Nicole Tadgell: Watercoloring Windows into a Wider World

  Nicole Tadgell, , is the award-winning illustrator of over thirty picture books. Her radiant watercolors captur...