First Stories

First Stories is Riding, Rolling, and Running…with Valerie Bolling!

Well, dear readers, it’s near the end of October and First Stories is back with its own treat! (No trick!) Valerie Bolling is BACK for another interview to celebrate the release of her SECOND picture book this year – RIDE, ROLL, RUN! Valerie adeptly smashes tons of fun into just a few words – only around 50 per book. But she skillfully crafts a story that kids will want to read over and over again.

Me: Welcome back to First Stories, Valerie!

Valerie: Thanks for having me again, Heather

Me: Last time, we talked about your two “first stories” – the ones written for each of your nieces. For those who weren’t able to read your interview before, I’ll post your description below:

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 the spark to deciding to learn more about writing for children and explore the possibility of getting published. That became one of my goals for 2017.

Me: Where are these stories now? Are they still in your archives?

Valerie: Yes! I still have them safely tucked away. There’s still a possibility that one might be a board book some day!

Me: Six months ago, we talked about the themes that you saw in your first stories. Do they still relate to the work you’re writing and publishing today?

Valerie: Both of my first stories exude joy and connection, and most of my books still do today. 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: Yes! That is so true! Your last release, TOGETHER WE RIDE, was such a remarkable picture book. You managed to cram apprehension, perseverance, love, and joy into around fifty words – and they rhymed! I have a feeling that RIDE, ROLL, RUN will be similar…but we’ll get to that later. 🙂

Looking back, what elements of your first stories made them 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 PBs. I hadn’t read the recommended 100 PBs before beginning to write. I hadn’t taken a class or listened to webinars about craft or even about basic requirements and structure for PBs. 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: Reading extensively in the genre in which you are writing is so key. And not only the books you grew up reading (though you can still glean inspiration from them). But reading recent works is so important for gaining a sense of the market and what is selling now.

I know these first stories are special to you! How were they 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: I love that you wrote those first stories for your nieces! What a special thing for them!

I would love to hear about your upcoming book release – RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! 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”?

Valerie: RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! (illustrated by Sabrena Khadija) celebrates community and friendship, as children play their way through their vibrant neighborhood. I got the idea for this book, thinking about activities children enjoy doing outside, which are the same ones I enjoyed myself as a child. I also wanted to demonstrate that you don’t have to go outside of your neighborhood, and you don’t need expensive equipment or electronics.

This book wasn’t inspired by my nieces, per se, but they love to play outside, too. It does relate to my first stories because it focuses on the joy that children experience as they engage in fun activities with their friends, creating a sense of community.

Me: Your text is so amazing in this book! I love how you champion these fun outdoor activities that I love to play with my own kids! But I’ve been surprised at how many kids don’t know what hopscotch is…or tag…or dodgeball. RIDE, ROLL, RUN squeezes all these fun games in and more!!

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 a blessing, Heather. I’m grateful to be able to share upcoming titles. In 2023 there will be sequels to my 2022 books titled, TOGETHER WE SWIM and BING, BOP, BAM: TIME TO JAM! In addition, my Scholastic Acorn early reader series, RAINBOW DAYS (illustrated by Kai Robinson), is also scheduled for release in 2023. In 2024, my co-authored book with Kailei Pew, I SEE COLOR (illustrated by Laylie Frazier), will be published. To find out more about these books, please check out my website: https://valeriebolling.com.

Me: WOW!! Valerie, how amazing to have so many books coming out into the world! HUGE congratulations to you and I can’t wait to read them all!! I love that you and Kailei are collaborating on a book; I can’t wait to hear more about that one. 🙂 Thanks for being on First Stories again!!

Valerie: Thanks for having me!

First Stories will return on November 11th, featuring Jocelyn Rish!

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