First Stories

First Stories!! Featuring Valerie Bolling!

Welcome back, dear readers! Thank you for taking a bit of your time to “listen in” to another First Stories conversation – this time with the amazing Valerie Bolling. She has been releasing picture book after picture book recently! Huge congrats, Valerie! Beginning with LET’S DANCE in 2020, she and her agent, James McGowan have announced multiple book deals – two picture books in 2022 (including TOGETHER WE RIDE, releasing in April!) and two more in 2023, along with an early reader series! Her books are fun, upbeat, and full of joy. So I am beyond excited to chat with Valerie about her very first manuscript…wait, manuscripts?

If you remember, Tina Cho had multiple First Stories that pushed her into writing for kids…and so does Valerie. So grab a snack and settle in for a fantastic conversation with award-winning author, Valerie Bolling! Read more about her below:

What has kept Valerie Bolling sane throughout the pandemic are two things: writing and walking. Both provide nourishment to her soul. She often writes stories in her head, while walking, and comes up with some of her best revision ideas. Her debut LET’S DANCE! (SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner and CT Book Award finalist) was published in 2020, and she’s happy to welcome TOGETHER WE RIDE (illus. Kaylani Juanita) and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! (illus. Sabrena Khadija) in 2022. Sequels to these books as well as a Scholastic early reader series, RAINBOW DAYS (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.

Me: Welcome to First Stories, Valerie! Thank you so much for stopping by to chat!

Valerie: Thanks for having me!

Me: Tell me about your “first story.” The one that really pushed you to consider publishing. What inspired you to write it? What was it about?

Valerie: I actually have two “first stories,” Heather. I wrote manuscripts in which each of my nieces was the main character. They spent a week in December 2016 with my husband and me, and, during that time, they each inspired a story idea. Writing these stories was what sparked my interest in learning more about writing for children and explore the possibility of getting published. That became one of my goals for 2017.

Me: I love that your nieces were the inspiration for your original stories, or the ideas for the stories. In a similar way, my youngest inspired my own first story….but that’s a story for another day. 🙂

Where are these stories now?

Valerie: Both of those stories are in my archives. I’m not sure either will ever see the light of day, though there’s a possibility that one could be published as a board book.

Me: That seems to be a pretty common answer, but what I love about these interviews is that every writer knows exactly where that first story is and what it was about that story that pushed him/her into writing and seeking publication.

Are there any themes in that story that you can see in your writing today?

Valerie: Both of these books exude joy and connection as do most of my books. The children in my books enjoy themselves – doing things that kids do – and there’s always an element of connecting – with family, friends, or the larger community. My books also feature BIPOC children and others who are underrepresented.

Me: I am so grateful for joyful books, especially because of the last few years. It’s wonderful to pick up a story and read about characters enjoying the outdoors, a game, their family. Thanks for writing those stories!

Looking back, what elements of that first story made it unmarketable? Did you receive feedback on that story? What did that feedback teach you?

Valerie: The biggest issue with those first stories was that I hadn’t studied picture books. I hadn’t read the recommended 100 picture books before beginning to write. I hadn’t taken a class or listened to webinars about craft or even about basic requirements and structure for picture books. Another major miss was that I wasn’t a member of a critique group. I did have some kind friends who provided feedback on my stories, but, like me, they had not studied the genre. In addition, they were not writing themselves.

Me: There is so much to learn about the craft of writing, and so much of it that we can do. Reading, studying structure, asking about what works in stories. And critique groups are AMAZING!! Huge shout-out to my own wonderful group; thanks for all you do to push me to be a better children’s writer!

Why is that “first story” special to you? How was it important for your writing journey?

Valerie: Those first stories will always be special to me, Heather, because they featured my nieces. I even used their names for each of the main characters, Zorah and Anyah.  That experience was important for my writing journey because we all have to start somewhere. I wrote another book immediately after those two and transformed it last year (four years later); I’m hoping it will go out on sub this year. The next book I wrote was LET’S DANCE! (illustrated by Maine Diaz), and that was my 2020 debut.

Me: We DO all have to start somewhere; there’s no way to finish something that hasn’t begun. Being patient and persistent is critical as well, along with flexible. I love how you kept writing and set aside the first few picture books before writing LET’S DANCE.

I would love to hear about your upcoming book release – TOGETHER WE RIDE! What can you tell us about this book? How did you come up with the idea for this book? Does it relate at all to your “first story”?


TOGETHER WE RIDE (illustrated by Kaylani Juanita), was inspired by all the children 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. When I commented about how much her bike riding skills had progressed over the weeks, her mother told me that all of the time they were spending at home provided the opportunity for her to learn. Learning to ride a bike – without training wheels – is such an exciting milestone for children that I decided to write a story about that experience.

This book wasn’t inspired by my nieces, per se, but they love to ride their bikes, too. It does relate to my first stories, however, because it’s focused on the joy that comes with riding a bike and accomplishing a goal. It also spotlights the love and connection between a father and daughter and, ultimately, an entire family.

Me: Anything else you would like to share about your writing journey? (Or more upcoming release news! I know you’ve got lots of good things coming! 😊)

Valerie: My writing journey has been incredible, Heather. I’m grateful for my books that are slated to come into the world and hope to keep adding more. Next up after TOGETHER WE RIDE is RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! (illustrated by Sabrena Khadija) in September. Next year there will be sequels to those books as well as my Scholastic early reader series, RAINBOW DAYS (illustrated by Kai Robinson). To find out more about these books, please check out my website:

Me: Valerie, thank you so much for taking the time, especially right before a book release, to chat about your First Stories!

Valerie: Thank you for having me!

Me: If you’d like to pre-order a copy of Valerie’s TOGETHER WE RIDE, please follow the link:

First Stories will return in April with two more amazing interview! Be sure to follow my blog to receive updates on new posts.

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