Interview and GIVEAWAY with Debut Author Valerie Bolling

Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,
It’s Valentine’s Day–Hooray! Our guest today is here to tell us about our book that had love in the title at one point, Valerie Bolling! Her debut picture book is Let’s Dance!
cover of Let's Dance book with two kids dancing
Kaitlyn: Thanks so much for joining us today on the Math Is Everywhere Blog.

Valerie: Happy Valentine’s Day to you, Kaitlyn, and to all of your readers! Thank you for interviewing me for your blog, and congratulations on your amazing Author and Champion Interview on Brian Gehrlein’s blog last month.
Kaitlyn: Happy Valentine’s day to you, and thank you so much! To start us off, can you share the story of how this book once had love in the title.
Valerie: I’d be happy to tell you about the original title of Let’s Dance! In early drafts, my book was I Love to Dance! This title seemed to fit because the book is about the love of dance, and this line was repeated between each stanza. Marianne McShane, a friend who is a writer, storyteller, and retired librarian, suggested I read Summer Wonders by Bob Raczka as a mentor text and that I start the story with a line that appeared later in the text: “Tappity-tap/Fingers snap.” Her recommendations helped me to revise the book significantly and get it ready to query. After revisions, I decided to change the title of the book not only because the refrain, “I Love to Dance!” no longer appeared in the book, but also because Let’s Dance! is a more inclusive title, encouraging readers to dance along.
Kaitlyn: Happy Valentine’s day to you too, and I just adore that! Your book definitely encourages me to get up and dance. Your journey to publication on this book got going with heart on a Twitter pitch event, can you share what you’ve loved most about the publication process?

Valerie: What I’ve enjoyed most is the continuous learning experience along this journey and connecting with the writing community. Since signing my publishing contract in July 2018, I have grown so much as a writer, both in terms of honing my craft and by discovering information about the industry. I still have much more to learn, and I’m constantly being educated by the writing conferences I attend (Kweli and NESCBWI), the two groups for debut authors (#2020DiverseDebuts and #20/20VisionPBs) I’ve joined, and numerous Facebook groups for writers that I visit frequently. I’m also participating in #12X12PB Challenge (drafting 12 picture books in 12 months) this year and was named a #WNDB (We Need Diverse Books) mentee in January. I know I’ll learn a lot from my mentor, Kelly Starling Lyons. I’ve been working intensely as well with an outstanding editor, Sam Cabbage and my faithful writing partner, Lindsey Aduskevich; I share manuscripts with my critique group, too. In addition, with the imminent release of my book, I’ve been reaching out to people, like you, to promote Let’s Dance! These connections are invaluable, and I appreciate all the support that has been showered upon me.
Kaitlyn: Sounds like you are rocking your writing career! Which spread in Let’s Dance just makes your heart soar and why?

Valerie: It’s hard to pick a favorite spread because Maine did such an awesome job illustrating this book. Her drawings exude energy and make the book dance! That said, the kuku illustrations are close to my heart. I took African dance classes in college and afterward at CT Ballet. The detail that Maine put into this spread – the hands beating the djembe, the intricate braids adorned with beads, the delicately detailed clothing – it’s all so incredibly beautiful and vibrant.

There’s more information that may interest you and readers about the kuku spread. When I wrote the book, I focused more on rhyming words that could be associated with dance but did not necessarily have a particular dance in mind for every stanza/spread. I knew I wanted diverse children in the book (and was specific with my editor, Jes Negrón, about what I wanted). However, it was Jes’ vision that propelled Let’s Dance! from diverse to global. For instance, where I saw “Tappity-tap/Fingers snap” as tap dance, Jes imagined flamenco from Spain. I envisioned the electric slide for “Glide and slide/Side to side,” but Jes suggested long sleeve dancing from China. Kuku is the only cultural dance that was part of my original vision, so that’s another reason it’s the spread that resonates in a special way with me.
Kaitlyn: Oh my! I got the chills; Jes sounds like a phenomenal editor, taking your beautiful vision even further! So now we have to know, where did the idea for this book come from?

Valerie: I have noticed that whenever music is played, most children start to dance. 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 five and seven, they still love to dance! They definitely inspired this book.

The first sentence of my pitch for Let’s Dance! was “Dancing is a universal language, even though we all have different ‘accents.’” My goal 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!
Kaitlyn: I definitely think you and your team have achieved that goal with this gorgeous book! Okay, since it’s Valentine’s day, can you tell us a love story?

Valerie: I can definitely tell you a love story – my love story – the story of how I met my husband, which has a connection to Africa.

We met in July 2002 at a two-week summer workshop for teachers that was held at Yale University. The title of the workshop was “The Teaching of Africa.” The course was intense. We met from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. each day, so participants really got to know each other. In the evenings, Sheldon drove me to my car – too long of a story to explain why, but the short answer is that we parked in different lots, and mine was farther away. We would sit and chat in his car for a while before I exited to get into my own vehicle. By the end of the two weeks, we knew we would be friends but didn’t necessarily know it would turn to love. Maybe Sheldon knew, but I didn’t. We made plans to get together, and our first date was a hike. We’ve been together ever since … and it did develop into love!

Sheldon has been so supportive on my writing/publication journey. He says he’s my “biggest fan” and that I’m his “favorite author,” which, of course, means so much to me.

picture of Valerie and her husband
Sheldon and Valerie

Kaitlyn: Aw, thanks for sharing that with us; your husband sounds wonderful! What advice can you share with authors about their road to publication?


Short answer: Don’t give up, and enjoy the ride!

Specific Tips:

  1. Write.
  2. Revise.
  3. Read.
  4. Immerse yourself in writing opportunities and in the writing community by taking a course, joining SCBWI, going to conferences, joining a critique group, and participating in contests.
  5. Continue writing, even when you face rejection.

Kaitlyn: Agreed! Those are great tips. Finally, if you could spend the day with your favorite author, would you rather go outside and fly a kite or sit by a fire with tea?

Valerie: Definitely a fireplace with tea. We could relax and chat comfortably without having to figure out how to fly a kite. I would want to focus on sharing and getting to know one another, not on flying a kite.
Kaitlyn: Sounds cozy! Thanks so much for joining us today!

Valerie: Thank you, Kaitlyn. It is truly an honor to be interviewed by you and to appear in Your Math is Everywhere blog. I’m grateful for your promotion of Let’s Dance! and for all you do for authors with your Fall Frenzy and Spring Fling contests.

You are a wonder, Kaitlyn! If I don’t find an agent soon, I’d love to have you rep me when you finish your internship at Olswanger! Thanks again, and maybe one day we’ll have tea together by a fire.
Kaitlyn: Awe, thank you so much, Valerie, that would be lovely!

Kaitlyn’s Review of Let’s Dance

This picture book brings delight with each page turn. The words perfectly describe every dance, the art is stunning, and it just makes me want to get up and dance!
Pre-order your copy of Let’s Dance! It comes out on March 3, 2020!

ABOUT LET’S DANCE! (from Penguin Random House)

This rhythmic showcase of dances from all over the world features children of diverse backgrounds and abilities tapping, spinning, and boogying away!

Tap, twirl, twist, spin! With musical, rhyming text, author Valerie Bolling shines a spotlight on dances from across the globe, while energetic art from Maine Diaz shows off all the moves and the diverse people who do them. From the cha cha of Cuba to the stepping of Ireland, kids will want to leap, dip, and zip along with the dances on the page!

Do you want to win a picture book manuscript or query critique from author Valerie Bolling?
Then, enter the giveaway!
You have three ways to enter:

  1. Comment on this post
  2. Share in the comments below that you pre-ordered a copy of Let’s Dance! and/or did a purchase request for it at your library
  3. Retweet my tweet about this blog post on Twitter

Three winners will receive a PB critique or query critique. Winners will get feedback by March 31.

Valerie’s Bio:

headshot of Valerie

When I was four, my grandmother taught me how to write. I loved the feel of the pencil in my hand as I made marks on the paper. I took special care to write each letter of the alphabet as beautifully as I could. In first grade, I began to write “poetry” in black and white marbled composition books. Applying the most recent phonics lessons I created simple rhymes, like: There is a cat. It sat on a mat. It caught a rat. Is it ironic then that my debut picture book is a series of rhyming stanzas?

So how did I become a picture book author? Inspired by a visit from my nieces in December 2016, I wrote two stories in which each of them was the protagonist. Shortly after, I decided to pursue becoming a published author. I contacted people I believed could be helpful resources – and they were – and I wrote and wrote and wrote. And revised even more. In June of 2017, I started writing query letters to agents and editors and began to participate in Twitter pitches. In a June 2018 #PBPitch, Let’s Dance! was “liked” by Jes Negrón, an editor at Boyds Mills & Kane, and less than two weeks later, I received the news that my book had been accepted for publication!

In addition to writing picture books, I write a Monthly Memo for teachers that I publish on Twitter, and I have been published in The National Writing Project’s Quarterly and NESCBWI News. A poem I wrote has been accepted for publication by Cricket Media’s Babybug Magazine.

I am seeking an agent who shares my vision and passion of inclusiveness in children’s literature, engages in honest communication, and works earnestly to ensure that my manuscripts become published books.
Tufts University, B.A. in English
Columbia University, Teachers College, M.A. in Elementary and Middle School Education

My entire educational career, spanning over 25 years, has been in Greenwich, Connecticut. I started as an elementary teacher (Grades 2, 4, and 5) and moved on to middle school (Grade 8 English). Currently, I serve as an Instructional Coach, collaborating with middle and high school teachers on implementing a variety of instructional strategies designed to increase student performance.

Find Valerie on the web:
Instagram: AND

I hope you all enjoyed this interview and if you haven’t checked out the details for our Spring Fling Contest, check it out here. We just announced the prizes for this year, too. They’re pretty spectacular, check that out here, and thanks so much for visiting.


Kaitlyn Leann

46 thoughts on “Interview and GIVEAWAY with Debut Author Valerie Bolling

  1. I can’t wait to read your book! Sounds like I will be able to use it as a mentor text for my own books with rhyme, onomatopoeia, music, and dance!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Valerie and Kaitlyn! Let’s Dance sounds great. I put a request in at my library for it. I look foward to reading it with my girls who love to dance. It is true that kids of all ages sway and bob with the hint of music. The universal language of dance does lend itself to inclusion and acceptance. Thanks for sharing your story and I look forward to reading your debut!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for saying you love Let’s Dance!, Donna Marie. That means a lot to me. I hope you are all well and keeping safe during this pandemic. I’m planning a number of virtual events, so if you have young readers in your life, please check out the Events page on my website. Also, there’s a book store (RJ Julia), also on my website, that has a way for me to sign books during this time. So … if you haven’t ordered a copy yet — or want to order more — order from them. I truly appreciate your support!

      Liked by 1 person

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