It’s another interview with TWO picture books by the same author.
Valerie Bolling has visited my blog a few times before. In fact, she last visited my blog to discuss the two books previous to the ones we will be discussing today. She is the author of several award winning picture books and has a couple of early readers coming out too. A graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University, Teachers College, Valerie has been an educator for 30 years (though she just recently retired). Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut. You can learn more about her at her website or follow her on Twitter or on Instagram.
BING, BOP, BAM: TIME TO JAM is a sequel to RIDE, ROLL, RUN and explores another limited rhythmic text with the same group of kids. This time they are planning a block party. This book not only celebrates community, but also dance, culture, and the sheer joy of music. The illustrations are once again by Sabrena Khadija who uses the same kids to once again explore the diversity in this neighborhood. It’s a quick read but a rollicking good time.
TOGETHER WE SWIM is also a sequel. Here we see the same characters we saw in TOGETHER WE RIDE, but a few years older. In the first book, we saw dad teach a young girl to ride her bike. This time the baby brother is a bit older and it is his turn to learn to swim with mom as the teacher. It’s another text as short as a poem and yet it leaves the young reader feeling proud and capable. It’s also fun to see how Kaylani Juanita ages the same characters and yet they are still recognizable. Both are fun to read as pairs to compare how characters change and grow (or don’t). I think these would be excellent for a fun classroom compare/contrast writing assignment, as well as just fun read alouds.
Welcome back Valerie!
Me: I love seeing both of these book “sequels” and I’m once again blown away by how succinct each text is. You have left SO much room for illustrations to work. How many words are within the text of each picture book?
Valerie: Are you going to make me count, Jena? Actually, I know. BING, BOP, BAM is 120-ish words, and TOGETHER WE SWIM is 60.
Me: Interesting! With such sparse text, it could be a challenge for an illustrator without art notes. Did you give any clues to your thoughts for lines like “Shake, Swoosh. Rattle, whoosh. Sticks fly. Jump up high.”?
Valerie: Yes, I did provide illustrator notes in BING, BOP, BAM. Since I wanted to ensure that certain instruments from around the world were featured, I knew I’d have to provide the illustrator with that information.
Me: I love seeing the same characters from the same illustrators again. In TOGETHER WE RIDE, Kaylani Juanita told the story through her illustrations of dad teaching his daughter to ride a bike. We caught a glimpse of mom and baby brother in the illustrations towards the end. In TOGETHER WE SWIM, we see the same family with slightly older kids, but this time mom is teaching that younger brother to swim. Was this something you anticipated? Seeing the same family and watching them grow and develop? Your text didn’t indicate which parent was doing what in either book (with the exception of “Ma clapping.” in this one).
Valerie: When my agent, James McGowan, and I sold TOGETHER WE RIDE (titled BIKE RIDE at the time of acquisition), it resulted in a two-book deal. I didn’t indicate gender at all in my illustration notes; I simply said that certain lines should be attributed to an adult and others to a child. My editor at Chronicle, Elizabeth Lazowski, felt strongly that she wanted the book to be a father/daughter story, and that was fine with me. Once that decision was made, I needed to write about a child learning another activity, and it made sense to feature the mother and son. Since TOGETHER WE SWIM would be published more than a year later, the illustrator, Kaylani Juanita, had to age up the children a bit. After all, we know how quickly kids grow!
Me: And I noticed that illustrator Sabrena Khadija used the same cast of kids in RIDE, ROLL, RUN as she did in BING, BOP, BAM. Were these stories sold as a set? Did you expect to see characters returning in the illustrations?
Valerie: I love how observant you are, Jena. I did expect the same characters to appear in BING, BOP, BAM because that book was also part of a two-book deal.
Me: New authors sometimes struggle with the concept of giving their illustrators freedom to produce illustrations they might not expect. You are so good at doing just that with your tight manuscripts. What advice might you give a new picture book writer who is struggling with letting the illustrator have freedom?
Valerie: I would say, “Give the illustrator freedom!” The editor will likely have a conversation with you about your vision for the book, and you’ll see sketches along the way and have the opportunity to weigh in with your thoughts and opinions. Thus, you don’t need to dictate the art right from the start. Illustrators are talented artists, and they will do even more for your story than you can imagine.
Me: That’s great advice. It’s really fun to read these books together as pairs. Can we expect more books in either series? Will we see these characters again (please say yes)?
Valerie: Jena, I’d love to see more books featuring the characters in BING, BOP, BAM and TOGETHER WE SWIM. I’m ready with more manuscripts, but publishing is a business. That means whether or not more books will be published depends on sales. Hopefully, Abrams and Chronicle will deem that the sales of the current books are successful enough to warrant a third book – or even more!
Me: True! Good luck with that. What surprised you in writing either story that you hadn’t encountered in your writing before?
Valerie: I’m not sure I remember being surprised by anything during the writing process of these stories, but, then again, I wrote them at least three years ago. I think what surprised me most of all is that both of these books are part of two-book deals. These were the first books sold, since my debut, LET’S DANCE!, and the first books my agent sold for me. That makes them truly special.
I love that. Thank you for stopping by my blog again today Valerie.
Dear readers, both of these books were just released this month. If you haven’t had a chance to read them yet, you will want to track them down. They are a great study in sparse text leaving plenty of room for the illustrations to bloom and so much more.