Valerie Bolling–What Was on Her…
Today is International Dance Day, the perfect day to talk with Valerie Bolling, the author of Let’s Dance!. This delightful book, illustrated by Maine Diaz, was inspired by the way music unites us—by the way dance is a pan-cultural joy.
Packed full of rhyme and pizzazz, Let’s Dance! features dancers and dances from all over the world. “CHA CHA CHA, oo-la-la” is my favorite line. Kuku, a high-energy dance from Guinea, West Africa, is my favorite dance. Valerie herself learned it in one of her many dance classes.
text by Valerie Bolling, illustrations by Maine Diaz
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!
As energetic and joyful as Let’s Dance! is, Valerie has always hoped that it will also work as a springboard for conversation about the diverse children who are dancing in the book. She hopes that it will be a Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors book, in the sense that Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop outlines in her seminal article by the same name. Valerie wants kids to see themselves reflected in Let’s Dance!, but also hopes the book will act as a window for them to see into other worlds that aren’t familiar to them and as a sliding glass door through which they may enter the other worlds. She is a strong advocate for diversity. And having worked in education for twenty-eight years, Valerie is passionate about helping children discover and celebrate the writer within each of them.
Let’s Dance!, which was spotted by Boyds Mills & Kane editor Jes Negrón during a Twitter Pitch (#PBPitch), is Valerie’s debut picture book. But, boy oh boy, is she on a roll. In 2022 and 2023 she has a total of seven books coming out. Yes, you read that right—seven! Among these is Together We Ride (Chronicle 2022) and Together We Swim (Chronicle 2023), both stories about discovering new skills with a parent.
Valerie joins us from Stamford, Connecticut, where she lives with her husband, to celebrate International Dance Day and tell us what was on her…
Dance Floor: Most people who take dance classes begin as a young child, though Misty Copeland was 13. I was even older: 18. In college, I took my first dance class, Principles of Dance Techniques. I then took African and modern dance classes; kuku dance, which I learned in my African dance is featured in LET’S DANCE!.
I later took classes at a dance studio in my town. I also took Zumba classes at my gym. That’s as much formal dance training as I’ve had. The great thing about dancing, of course, is that it’s not even necessary to take classes; you can just dance – moving across the dance floor (or your kitchen or living room) in whatever way you feel inspired to do so.
Whenever I read LET’S DANCE!, I encourage listeners to dance along. Along with agent, Kaitlyn Sanchez, and fellow author, Kailei Pew, I’ve hosted Kid Lit Dance parties where we share publishing information, respond to audience questions, and, most of all, DANCE!
Our next dance party will be our Summer Soiree in July. Stay tuned on Twitter for the date.
List of Most Admired Dancers: All dancers are wonderful – talented, graceful, strong. Some of my favorites are: Misty Copeland, The Nicholas Brothers (watch the amazing video until the end!), Gregory Hines, Savion Glover (yes, I like tappers!), and, for ensembles, Alvin Ailey, the Fly Girls from In Living Color, and dancers in Broadway shows.
I originally envisioned the opening spread below in LET’S DANCE! as tap dance, but my editor, Jes Negrón, suggested that my words matched flamenco. Since she had an idea to make this book about dances from around the world, that made perfect sense.Winning Twitter Pitch: A girl dances the cha-cha-cha; a boy zig-zag-zigs in his wheelchair. Dancing is a universal language, even though we all have different “accents.” This is a story that leaves no doubt that dancing is for everyone!
Bedside Table: Since I spend more time writing than reading these days, I haven’t been able to dive into books with the same voracity as I have done in the past. I still enjoy reading and do so when I can find the time. A couple of weeks ago, I read From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks. My nine-year-old niece read it, too, and it’s now her favorite book. We enjoyed discussing it together and why we both liked it so much. I’m currently reading Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson; any book written by Renée is worth reading. During my spring break this week, my husband and I will read and discuss Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste. Next up will be Renée Watson’s Love is a Revolution and Nonieqa Ramos’ Your Mama.
Author Visit Schedule: Unfortunately, I don’t get to do author visits as often as I’d like because I have a full-time job. However, since I’m an educator, I have access to children! For World Read Aloud Day this year I visited, virtually, seven classrooms in my school district. I’ve also been in elementary and middle school classrooms, in-person, using LET’S DANCE! to teach about the writing process. Currently, I’m in the process of planning an in-person visit to my independent school alma mater. I’ll spend a day there in lower school classrooms and will have the opportunity to meet with upper school students to discuss writing as a career. I’m looking forward to this!
Instagram Live: I’m not on Instagram much. Twitter is my primary social media platform. That said, my author-sister-friend, Tameka Fryer Brown, interviewed me for my one-year book birthday on the IG account for our co-marketing group, Kid Lit in Color. Here’s the interview.Lists and Sub-Lists: Oh, my goodness! Do you really want to know all of my lists right now? I have a grocery list, a list of what to do today, a list of what to accomplish over vacation, a list of certain points I want to make in my live panel next week, a honey-do list for my husband, and I’m sure there are one or two others I haven’t listed here!
Mind: Equity has been on my mind a lot lately. I think about it EVERY DAY as an author and an educator. I think about it EVERY DAY as a Black woman.
It is so important for children to see themselves in books and to learn, also, about the experiences of others. It is equally important for students to see themselves in the curriculum and to learn about stories, concepts, and events from multiple perspectives. Equity is empathy-building. Equitable is what our world must become. After all, “no one is free when others are oppressed.” (author unknown)
To understand my commitment to equity, notice the titles of the recent panels on which I’ve been featured.
- Show Me Myself: Why Representation Matters in Children’s Books (Fay B. Kaigler Virtual Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi)
- Play Is Equity (Fay B. Kaigler Virtual Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi)
- Writing and Modeling Anti-Racism for Young Readers (Fay B. Kaigler Virtual Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi)
- Empowering and Enriching Learning Communities through Cultural Appreciation, Not Cultural Appropriation (MASL Spring Virtual Conference)
Here are two articles I wrote about equity that were published in March 2021. Both were inspired by Inauguration 2020.
Why Children Need to See Themselves in Books
Poetry Is the Light: Children Need to Let Their Words Shine
Thank you, Valerie–for your joyous Let’s Dance!–and your staunch dedication to equity. I agree one-hundred percent, equity is empathy-building. We need to be able to not only see ourselves reflected in books, but to look through windows and step through those sliding glass doors. It’s key. And books are one of the greatest ways we can offer that to children.
You can stay in contact with Valerie Bolling at valeriebolling.com, on Twitter @valerie_bolling, and on Instagram @valeriebollingauthor.
If you would like to order Let’s Dance!, click on the book below.
Be sure to put May 15, Learn to Swim Day, on your calendar. Author Julie Abery will be talking about Sakamoto’s Swim Club and, of course, swimming!
Also, plan to stop by on May 25, as part of Mental Health Month. Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia will be talking about her picture book, Balloons for Papa, and the role children play in helping us all deal with fear and grief.
If you would like to know more about me and my writing, please visit sandranickel.com.
Thank you for this interview, and congratulations on all your forthcoming books, Valerie! I enjoyed meeting you virtually in January and hope it can be in person soon!
It’s always lovely to see you here, Lyn. Thank you so much!
Thanks for stopping by, Donna!
I always learn something here. This time I learned about Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors article. Thank you for introducing me to it, Valerie and Sandra
I’m honored that you learn when you are here. There is no bigger complement. Thank you!