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!
Thank you for doing this interview. Congratulations on your debut!
Thank you for interviewing me, Alaina, and for your congratulations. I’m excited to have my first book, Let’s Dance!, published. It’s been a wonderful adventure!
Tell us about the process of getting Let’s Dance! published. You were part of a Twitter pitch contest. What was that process like and what do you think other unpublished authors should know about Twitter pitch contests before they join one?
I think Twitter pitches present a fabulous opportunity for writers to get noticed, and it’s so easy to participate. I’ve participated in #PBPitch, #DVPit, #PitMad, and #FaithPitch. All you need is a succinct, snappy pitch for your book, and you can add appropriate hashtags (#PB, #POC, etc.) when you tweet. If an agent or editor “likes” your pitch, you can send your manuscript, which moves you to the top of the query pile. As with any query, there’s no guarantee that your manuscript will be accepted for publication, but it’s a great way to get your foot in the door.
Some writers are skeptical of Twitter pitches because they think someone will “steal” their story idea. Personally, I don’t think there’s much danger of this. Besides, a number of similar stories exist, but it’s the author’s unique slant that makes a story a success. If a writer is truly concerned about this, then they don’t have to participate in Twitter pitches. I, however, strongly endorse them!
You’re also a WNDB mentee. What are you hoping to get from your mentorship and what are your career goals?
Alaina, I’m absolutely thrilled to be a WNDB mentee and to have been awarded a mentorship with my mentor, Kelly Starling Lyons!
I have learned a lot about writing and the publishing industry over the past couple of years, but I have so much more to learn. In addition to receiving feedback from Kelly on my manuscripts and readying them for publication, I look forward to learning all I can— about the industry and anything writing-related—from such a prolific award-winning author.
My career goal, or writing dream, 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.
Let’s Dance! includes a number of different dances, many of which you explain at the end. Why was it important to you to include these and show a variety of kids dancing to the steps?
Let’s Dance! features 10 dances. For each dance, I wrote a two-sentence description at the end of the book. The credit for the global aspect of the book and the idea for the back matter goes to my Boyds Mills & Kane editor, Jes Negrón. I was very clear with Jes that I wanted this book to feature diverse children, especially those who are marginalized and underrepresented. Jes guaranteed that she’d fulfill my wish. Later, she expanded upon my desire with her global vision—seeing in my words the opportunity to showcase dances from around the world.
Are there any authors who have influenced your work or inspired you to pursue this career?
I find a number of different authors inspiring and have used their books as mentor texts. Kelly Starling Lyons, Matt de la Peña, Jacqueline Woodson, and Oge Mora are some of the authors who have influenced my work. For Let’s Dance!, Summer Wonders by Bob Raczka served as a helpful mentor text. My friend, Marianne McShane, who is a writer, storyteller, and retired librarian, recommended I read this book as I considered revisions to my manuscript.
You have also worked as an educator. How did that experience shape your writing process for Let’s Dance!?
Actually, Alaina, I still work as an educator; that’s my full-time gig. I’ve been an elementary school teacher and a middle school English teacher. Currently, I work with middle and high school teachers in my role as an Instructional Coach.
Being an educator has definitely shaped me as a writer.
First of all, I believe in being a lifelong learner and am learning so much throughout this process. Just as I want students to be eager and open to learning, I move through life the same way. I love learning from webinars, conferences, online groups, other writers, and any way I can within the writing community. When I was a classroom teacher, I always emphasized that I was not the only teacher in the classroom and that we would all learn from each other.
The other aspect of my educator life that is closely connected to my writing life is revision. Over the years, I’ve stressed to students the importance of revision, and I’m now taking my own advice and revising incessantly.
You’ve traveled extensively around the world. What have been some of your favorite places to visit? Where is next on your list, if you could pack up and go today?
I’m responding to your interview questions while on a plane, returning home from our winter break where my husband and I visited friends in California. We plan to visit friends in Florida for our spring break and have plans to visit another friend this summer in Rwanda. If I could take another trip right now, assuming I didn’t have to return to work, I’d like to go to New Zealand and I know my husband would love to travel there, too!
What other picture books do you think Let’s Dance! is in conversation with? Any picture books that you’d recommend?
That’s a great question, one that I want to think carefully about. There are so many amazing picture books by marginalized authors, but I want to highlight recent ones that, as you say, “are in conversation with” Let’s Dance! Here we go:
- This Is It Daria Peoples-Riley: The girl in this book is preparing for a dance audition. She is psyching herself up, knowing she wants to “strut her stuff” at the audition, making sure she does her best to secure a spot. The children in my book are dancing freely. They’re doing what they enjoy and are not worrying about being perfect. They’d probably tell the girl in This Is It, “You’ll be fine, Girl! Don’t stress. Just dance! You got this!”
- The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad: The relationship between these sisters is so beautiful. The confidence the older sister exudes wearing a hijab is wonderful. Even when she’s teased, she knows who she is and is proud, setting an example for her younger sister who looks up to her. In Let’s Dance! there’s a girl dancing in a hijab, and I think she might like to meet these sisters and encourage them to join her in dancing.
- Saturday by Oge Mora: I love that the main character and her mother do something special together every Saturday, and I especially love how they created their own puppet show. Let’s Dance! would say to them, “The next time you’re inside on a Saturday (maybe because the weather dictates a stay at home day), put on some music and dance together!”
- Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes: This book is so fly! After these boys and men get their fresh cuts, they feel “magnificent, flawless, like royalty.” Now they need to dance, to “leap high, fly-fly-fly!”
- Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña: The neighborhood community that this book celebrates is similar to the global dance community of Let’s Dance! We are all connected and can bring joy to one another. I can also imagine that if music was played at the community center, people would start dancing!
- Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love: I love the scene where Julián is dancing with the mermaids. Spoiler alert for my book, the ballet spread includes a child leaping high whose gender is indiscernible as a shout-out to boys who like to dance and children who may be transgender. Julián and this child might like to meet each other, talk, and, of course, dance.
- Sing a Song: How “Lift Every Voice and Sing” Inspired Generations by Kelly Starling Lyons: Singing and dancing go together, so Let’s Dance! and Sing a Song would enjoy talking to each other. Let’s Dance! might ask, “Can Kelly write a rhyming book about singing?” Sing a Song might ask, “Can Valerie write a book that shows the history of a particular dance and how it was passed on through generations?”
- The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander: I can imagine an intersection between Let’s Dance and Kwame’s masterpiece like, “This is for those who continued to dance their way through life, despite inequity and injustice. This is for the undefeated who still continue to dance. So, let’s dance to celebrate them, to celebrate us!”
- The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson: This book demonstrates how we’re all different yet all wonderful. Let’s Dance! would add that we all have our own way of dancing, too. Despite our differences, we all have something in common; both The Day You Begin and Let’s Dance! convey this message. In fact, the first sentence of my pitch for Let’s Dance! was “Dancing is a universal language, even though we all have different ‘accents.’”
- Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor: The subtitle of this book, Be Different, Be Brave, Be You, is what dancing is all about. Do your own dance; add your own flair; you don’t have to move like anyone else. Just BE YOU!
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Valerie Bolling has been an educator for over 25 years and a writer since age 4. She is a graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University, Teachers College and currently works as an Instructional Coach with middle and high school teachers. In addition to writing picture books, Valerie writes a Monthly Memo for teachers that she publishes on Twitter, and she has been published in The National Writing Project’s Quarterly and NESCBWI News. Recently, she had a poem accepted for publication by Cricket Media. Valerie is a member of NCTE, SCBWI, the NESCBWI Equity and Inclusion Committee, the Authors Guild, the WNDB Mentorship Program, #12X12PB, 2020 Diverse Debuts, 20/20 Vision Picture Books, and a picture book critique group. Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut and enjoy traveling, hiking, reading, going to the theater, and dancing.