Today I’d like to welcome Valerie Bolling www.valeriebolling.com, 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 www.valeriebolling.com
Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me, Linda. In addition to my website, readers can connect with me on Twitter https://twitter.com/valerie_bolling and on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/valeriebollingauthor/.