Sometimes an author is lucky and has multiple books coming out very closely together. That is the case with today’s Simply 7.
Valerie Bolling has visited my blog before a couple of years ago to talk about her debut picture book. She is the author of LET’S DANCE!, a 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite award winner and CT Book Award finalist, and TOGETHER WE RIDE, which has received starred reviews from the Horn Book and School Library Journal. RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN!, which Kirkus Reviews described as “pure joy,” will be released in October 2022. Sequels to her 2022 books (TOGETHER WE SWIM and BING, BOP, BAM: TIME TO JAM!) as well as a Scholastic Acorn early reader series, RAINBOW DAYS, are slated for 2023.
A graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University, Teachers College, Valerie has been an educator for 30 years. She currently works as an Instructional Coach and also teaches picture book writing classes. She is a WNDB mentor and deeply immersed in the kidlit writing community, particularly involved with SCBWI, the 12X12 Picture Book Challenge, Black Creators HeadQuarters, and Diverse Verse.
Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut and enjoy traveling, hiking, reading, going to the theater, and dancing. You can learn more about her at her website.
Today we will be talking about her two latest releases: TOGETHER WE RIDE and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! TOGETHER WE RIDE is a fun take on learning to ride a bike. A little girl learns with her dad, but the text is as sparse as a poem. RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! is very similar in text, but this time a group of children are done with school for the summer. This book explores what can be fun in the summer time in the city.
Welcome back Valerie!
Me: You have got to be the queen of brevity! How many words are within the text of each picture book?
Valerie: Thank you for that compliment about my brevity in writing, Jena. To answer your question, TOGETHER WE RIDE is 30 words, and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! is about 120ish words.
Me: With such sparse text, it would be a challenge for an illustrator to know your intent without art notes. Did you use art notes for either of these books? Did you communicate during the creation process with either illustrator?
Valerie: I’ll start by saying that I think it’s rare for a traditionally-published author to communicate directly with an illustrator. That said, publishing a book is a collaborative process. Every editor with whom I’ve worked has discussed with me my vision for the book and has consulted with me before selecting an illustrator. I have been shown sketches throughout the process and asked for feedback. My comments have been passed along to the illustrator by the editor. In other words, the editor is the messenger between us.
As for art notes, they were quite different for each book. For TOGETHER WE RIDE, I had very few notes; I mostly indicated which words were connected to “child” and which ones described what the “adult” was doing. I did have a more specific illustrator note about what I envisioned for the last page. For RIDE, ROLL, RUN, however, I had an illustrator note at the start of each stanza because I wanted the illustrator to know which game/activity my words were depicting. In addition, I wrote an overall note at the bottom of the manuscript that said: “The illustrator should utilize her/his/their creativity, but my goal for this book is to convey a sense of community with children from diverse backgrounds.”
Me: I know that diversity is also extremely important to you. These books both show a wealth of diverse characters. Was this something you asked to be included in the books, even before they reached the illustrators?
Valerie: You are absolutely correct, Jena, that diversity is extremely important to me. In fact, it’s imperative that the characters in my books reflect those who are not often seen in books.
As I mentioned in my previous response, editors and authors – at least in my experience – discuss the artistic vision for a book. Fortunately, the editors with whom I work share my vision and desire for diversity. I didn’t even need to ask my editors for TOGETHER WE RIDE (Elizabeth Lazowski at Chronicle) and RIDE, ROLL, RUN (Meredith Mundy at Abrams Appleseed) to ensure that the books reflect diversity. Elizabeth shared with me that she wanted TOGETHER WE RIDE to feature a Black father and daughter. (You may recall that in my illustrator notes, I only specified “adult” and “child.”) Meredith knew what I envisioned because of the overall illustrator note written at the bottom of my manuscript, which I mentioned in the previous question.
Me: I notice a theme of movement in your picture books (dance, bike riding, and all sorts of outdoor games). Why do you think it’s such a running thread in all of your picture books so far?
Valerie: That’s a great question, Jena. Someone else asked me the same question recently, and, truthfully, I hadn’t thought about that before. I was inspired to write these stories based on what I see children doing that they enjoy, and those activities happen to involve movement. As we know, movement is so healthy for children – for all of us – so I’m glad that readers may be inspired to get up and move while reading my books or will want to go outside and play after reading. Playing outside with my friends and cousins brought me so much joy as a child, and joy is another thread that runs through my books.
Me: TOGETHER WE RIDE is almost written like poetry. Why did you want to write a book about learning to ride a bike in this way?
Valerie: I had two goals for writing TOGETHER WE RIDE: Use as few words as possible, and write stanzas that have the same end rhyme. Since I wanted to use as few words as possible, writing in rhyme made sense. When I thought of the idea for the book, I knew I wanted to write it in rhyme. I wanted the story to focus on the actual experience of learning how to ride a bike; I didn’t want to create a bigger story or anything that would distract from that milestone moment.
Me: What surprised you in writing either story that you hadn’t encountered in your writing before?
Valerie: I was surprised, and pleased, that I was able to achieve my goal for TOGETHER WE RIDE. It was exciting and fun to discover how many words rhyme with “ride.” Although I took creative license and made up a word – “goodbyed”– I kept a consistent rhyme scheme throughout the book with the exception of one “cheat.” For RIDE, ROLL, RUN, the surprise came later when I saw the words paired with close-to-final illustrations for the book. For the basketball scene, I had written the words, “Off the floor” and realized they should either be changed to “Off the ground” or deleted. The children in the scene are playing outside, so there’s no floor. How I didn’t realize this and catch it earlier, I have no idea.
Me: There are very few books celebrating summer activities in the city with kids, as you do in RIDE, ROLL, RUN. Why was this important for you to share with young readers?
Valerie: RIDE, ROLL, RUN is important to share with young readers because, as I said earlier, children should play and have fun with their friends. I want children to realize all of the games and activities they can do outside, whether it’s playing a team sport, like basketball, jumping rope or hopscotching, or even drawing on the sidewalk with chalk. Fancy equipment isn’t needed. Just go outside and play!
I love that. Thank you for stopping by my blog again today Valerie.
Dear readers, LET’S RIDE came out in April, but RIDE, ROLL, RUN releases October 4. Be sure to check out both of them for how such incredibly brief texts can have both a plot arc and leave room for the illustrations. They are definitely worth studying!