Author Interview – Valerie Bolling

In 250 words or less, who are you?

I have been an educator for 27 years and a writer since age 4. When I taught elementary students, it was difficult to find diverse literature for them. Thus, I’m passionate about creating stories in which all children can see themselves and feel valued and heard.

I am a graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University, Teachers College and currently work as an Instructional Coach with middle and high school teachers. In addition to writing picture books, I write a Monthly Memo for teachers that I publish on Twitter, and I’ve been published in The National Writing Project’s Quarterly. I’m also a member of SCBWI, the NESCBWI Equity and Inclusion Committee, the Authors Guild, the WNDB Mentorship Program, #12X12PB, and a picture book critique group. One of my poems has been accepted for publication by Cricket Media, but, most exciting, is that my debut picture book, Let’s Dance!, will be released by Boyds Mills & Kane on March 3, 2020.

My husband and I live in Connecticut and enjoy traveling, hiking, reading, going to the theater, and dancing.


Tell us three things about yourself that might surprise us (these can be anything, from hobbies to weird facts, but try to make them about something outside of your work)

1. I grew up in an extended family. I was the only child in a house of seven adults, living with my mother, grandmother, three great-aunts, and great-grandparents.
2. I have a peanut allergy. The first time I met someone else with a peanut allergy was my freshman year of college.
3. I have traveled to five of seven continents. I haven’t been to Australia or Antarctica.


What is your favourite book? Why? If there is a more appropriate answer to this question, please answer than instead (i.e. favourite movie/band/etc.)

I do not have a favorite. I read so many books from all genres — PB. MG, YA, and adult. Most recently, I would probably recommend that people read and/or see Just Mercy.


If you weren’t an author, what would you be?
I’m an educator not only an author. I’m not sure what else I’d do. Any job/career of mine would involve teaching and/or writing.


What inspired you to become an author?
This will be answered in other questions.


Did you always want to be an author? What was your relationship with books as a child?
I’ve always been a reader and writer, though I didn’t have a goal of becoming an author until three years ago. As for books, I was never without a book as a child, and that still remains true today.


How did you become an author? What was your journey to this point?
At the start of each year my husband and I set goals for ourselves. In 2017, I decided to explore the possibility of getting a picture book published. Inspired by a visit from my nieces in December 2016, I wrote two stories in which each of them was the protagonist (I Do and The Greatest Gift). I also recalled a story I wrote when I taught 5th grade (Come In! Come In!) as well as a story written a number of years before (Play Date), and I revised these stories.

Thus, I began to pursue my goal of becoming a published writer. I spoke to people who 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. Let’s Dance! was “liked” in a Twitter pitch, and a couple of weeks after sending the manuscript to Jes Negrón (an editor at Boyds Mills & Kane), she expressed interest in publishing the book.


Who is your biggest influence?
I don’t have a particular influence. I just want to write books that celebrate diversity, underrepresented voices, and provide enjoyment.


What is your goal as an author? Is there anything you want to try and change about the world through your work?
My goal is to reach as many readers as possible. I want people to enjoy my books, read them again and again, and recommend them to others. That, to me, is success. If a book of mine wins an award that would be further validation that I’ve written an outstanding book.

I want to add to change the way we see our world. I want to offer windows, mirrors, and sliding glass door (Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop). When I taught elementary students, it was difficult to find diverse literature for them. Thus, I create stories in which all children can feel seen and heard. My nieces, ages 5 and 7, also provide inspiration because I want them to have access to diverse books and to feel validated and valued when they see characters who look like them.


When it comes to writing, what are your biggest challenges?
I don’t have a challenge with writing itself. The biggest challenge is finding agents and/or editors interested in publishing my writing. There’s so much rejection in this industry.


Please provide a short description of your product (i.e., what it is about, who it’s for, etc.)

This picture book showcases dances from all over the world, with rhythmic prose that encourages readers to tap, spin, and boogie along.

From the cha cha of Cuba to the stepping of Ireland, dancing is everywhere you go. This rhythmic showcase of dances from all over the world features children of diverse backgrounds and abilities tapping, spinning, and boogying away. This read is so full of energy, kids everywhere will want to dance along!

The book is for ages 3 – 7.


What inspired you to write this? Why do you believe it is an important message?
Everyone – or most people – love to dance! Turn on music and watch people – especially young, uninhibited children – start to move. 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 a hijab, a child in a tutu whose gender may not be discernible. I wanted my story to showcase dance in a way that celebrates diversity – and that leaves no doubt that dancing is indeed for everyone!

I love to dance, too!


What was your favourite thing about writing the book?
Playing with rhyme.


Similarly, what was your least favourite thing?
Writing the back matter — editor’s suggestion; though I didn’t enjoy it, I’m pleased that it’s a part of my book.


What are you working on next?
My newest story is a narrative non-fiction PB. I’m also currently revising two stories that are “offspring” from another story that I decided to separate into two stories.


What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
WRITE — most important.
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
5. Continue writing even when you face rejection.


Where can people reach you?


Facebook profile

Twitter bolling