By Michele Kirichanskaya
Today we’re pleased to welcome Valerie Bolling to the WNDB blog to discuss picture book Together We Ride, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita and out today, April 26, 2022!
Hair Love meets bike rides in this loving portrait of a father-daughter relationship.
Learning to ride is no easy feat! But with a little courage, a guiding hand from her dad, and an enthusiastic bark from her pup, one brave girl quickly learns the freedom that comes from an afternoon spent outside on a bike.
Experience the fear, the anticipation, and the delight of achieving the ultimate milestone in this energetic, warm story that celebrates the precious bond between parent and child.
First of all, welcome to We Need Diverse Books! Could you tell us a little about yourself? Where did the inspiration for your book, Together We Ride, come from?
Inspiration for Together We Ride came from all the children who’ve learned to ride a bike, especially those I saw riding bikes when taking my daily “mental health walks” with my husband during the COVID shutdown of spring 2020. In particular, there was a five-year-old girl who had just learned how to ride a bike. I thought it would be great to write a story about the somewhat universal story of learning to ride a bike.
How did you find yourself getting drawn into the world of children’s books? What were some of your favorite examples growing up?
I’ve always loved writing. In particular, what inspired me to write for children are two things: 1) spending time with my nieces, and 2) remembering that when I taught in the elementary classroom, it was difficult to find diverse literature for my students. I want my nieces to see themselves in books, and I don’t want it to be difficult for teachers to find diverse literature for students.
My favorite books as a child were Frog and Toad, Curious George, Amelia Bedelia, Charlotte’s Web, James and the Giant Peach, and The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, the Betsy, Tacy, and Tib series, and books by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. You’ll notice that none of these books are about BIPOC children or written by BIPOC authors. Writing children’s books is my small attempt to promote a world where Black and Brown children are seen and heard and valued and validated.
Based on your own experiences, what would you say goes into making a children’s book, including the collaboration process between illustrator and writer?
I think the most important qualities for publishing a children’s book are perseverance and resilience. A pre-published writer must be willing to face rejection and still keep going. There’s also study that’s involved—reading books (craft books and mentor texts), taking classes and attending webinars, and, of course, getting critique on your writing from others who write the same genre.
As for collaboration between an author and an illustrator, it’s the editor who handles that. The author should get to weigh in on the illustrator who’s chosen and will see sketches throughout the process; however, the author and illustrator do not communicate directly with each other.
How would you describe your creative process, and what are some of your favorite parts of it?
I’m not sure how I’d describe my creative process. I don’t really think about it. When I get an idea, I write. But I revise more than I create new drafts. Revision is my favorite part of the writing process. I like refining the text, searching for precise words, and changing a part of the story to make it better overall.
Right now you are a current mentor for We Need Diverse Books. Could you tell us what’s that been like so far?
My mentee, Ashley Murray, is wonderful. We communicate often, and I’m enjoying getting to know her and supporting her on her journey to become a published author. One of the things I think we’re both happy about is that I’ve connected her to critique partners, which she didn’t have previously.
Since this is definitely a book based on a love for sports, I was wondering: what are some of your favorite exercises?
I love to walk—my neighborhood and the woods are my favorite places. I’ll also work out inside if the weather prohibits me from going for a walk.
What advice would you give to other aspiring writers, whether those wanting to create children’s books or otherwise?
- Read the genre you want to write.
- Write often and revise even more.
- Get involved in the writing community, starting with finding critique partners.
Why did you decide to write this book using only 30 rhyming words and the same end rhyme throughout?
I think it’s important to challenge myself. It keeps writing interesting. For instance, last year I challenged myself to write a picture book biography, and I wrote one. This year, I’ve challenged myself to write a chapter book series.
I want to continue to learn and grow as a writer. I’m an educator, mentor, and coach, but I’m also a lifelong learner.
Are there any other projects you are incubating and at liberty to speak about?
As I said, my goal for this year is to write a chapter book series. I’ve written the first book and am in the process of revising it with input from my critique partners and beta readers.
Finally, what books would you recommend to the readers of We Need Diverse Books?
Valerie Bolling‘s debut, Let’s Dance! (illus. Maine Diaz, Boyds Mills & Kane), was published in 2020 and won a 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. In 2022 Valerie is happy to welcome Together We Ride (illus. Kaylani Juanita, Chronicle) and Ride, Roll, Run: Time For Fun! (illus. Sabrena Khadija, Abrams). Sequels to these books as well as a Scholastic early reader series (illus. Kai Robinson), are slated for 2023. Valerie has been an educator for almost 30 years, teaches classes at Westport Writers Workshop, and is a WNDB mentor. She is deeply immersed in the kidlit writing community, particularly involved with SCBWI, the 12X12 Picture Book Challenge, and Black Creators HeadQuarters. linktr.ee/ValerieBolling
Michele Kirichanskaya (she/