Let’s Dance! is a hip-shaking, twirl-spinning tour of movement around the world. Written by Valerie Bolling and illustrated by Maine Diaz, this simple picture book uses vibrant, poetic phrases and lively art to show kids doing the Kathak dance from India, Irish step dancing, the Long Sleeve Dance from China, and several more. At the back of the book are short descriptions of each dance and its country of origin. Valerie Bolling’s text is spare and lusciously active while Maine Diaz’s colorful art pirouettes across each spread. These passages range from ballet to break dancing showing participants that include a boy in a wheelchair, a girl wearing a hijab, and even some dancing sheep. This book is an effervescent introduction to an activity that kids everywhere love.
Let’s Dance! was released on March 3rd, 2020.
In onomatopoeic, rhyming text, Bolling encourages readers to dance in styles including folk dance, classical ballet, breakdancing, and line dancing. Read aloud, the zippy text will engage young children: “Tappity Tap / Fingers Snap,” reads the rhyme on the double-page spread for flamenco; “Jiggity-Jig / Zig-zag-zig” describes Irish step dancing. – Kirkus
Boyds Mills and Kane, 32 pages, ages 3-7 / preschool – 2nd grade
Book launch tomorrow, March 7, 11:00-12:00 am at the Harry Bennett Library, Stamford, CT
An interview with author Valerie Bolling
Valerie, congratulations on the release of Let’s Dance! Your spotlight on one global theme perfectly fits the need for more diverse books. A brilliant approach.
Thank you for those congratulations and for featuring Let’s Dance! (and me) on your blog. Diverse books are always needed. This need is what inspired me to write. When I taught elementary students, it was difficult to find diverse literature for them. Thus, I create stories in which all children can feel seen and heard. My nieces, ages 5 and 7, also provide inspiration because I want them to feel validated and valued when they see characters who look like them.
How did you choose to write about dance?
Everyone – or most people – love to dance! Turn on music and watch people – especially young, uninhibited children – start to move. The first sentence of my pitch for Let’s Dance! was “Dancing is a universal language, even though we all have different ‘accents.’” My goal was to show children from all walks – or dances – of life: a boy in a wheelchair, a girl in hijab, a child in a tutu whose gender is indiscernible. I wanted my story to showcase dance in a way that celebrates diversity – and that leaves no doubt that dancing is indeed for everyone!
What I love is that Jes Negrón, my editor, expanded upon my diverse, inclusive vision by creating a more global theme. Where I saw “Tappity-tap/Fingers snap” as tap dance, she imagined flamenco from Spain. I envisioned the electric slide for “Glide and slide/Side to side,” but Jes suggested long sleeve dancing from China.
Each page shows elements of culture from other countries. Your input or the illustrator’s?
I have to give Maine Diaz kudos for her amazing illustrations! Jes provided direction and feedback, too, to ensure that the illustrations would superbly capture each dance. I did have a vision for certain pages, and Jes allowed me to weigh in on early sketches, which is not always a privilege granted to an author.
The final result of the illustrations is better than I could have hoped for. Even though I had no contact with Maine during the process, once the book went to print, I reached out to her (via her website) to compliment and thank her for her gorgeous illustrations that make my book dance!
It is interesting that dances come first and explanations of where each originates are at the end.
My editor, Jes, is the one who requested that I write the back matter, two sentences about each dance. This addition adds an important dimension to the book.
Your lyrical text is spare with nothing extra. Some writers struggle to keep text simple.
If you think my work was accepted faster than a flamenco dancer can tap, even more remarkable is that Jes changed not ONE word of my manuscript. I did have to delete two stanzas to fit within the 32-page format though. I am well aware that my experience with this book is atypical in so many ways, I’m so grateful.
Do you like to dance?
Yes, I love dancing! During college, I took several dance classes (ballet, modern, African), and I stayed on the dance floor all night whenever the opportunity arose. After college, I continued to take dance classes and frequented places where I could go dancing with friends and, eventually, my husband. Any time there’s dancing, I pop up out of my seat onto the floor.
You seem to have a strong commitment to diversity. Can you tell me about that?
Sure. It’s something for which I’ve always had an awareness and appreciation. In my own life, I’ve had times where I haven’t felt welcomed because of the color of my skin as well as times when I was welcomed but yet not understood.
My commitment extends to my involvement in organizations that foster and celebrate diversity. In high school I was a member of the Black Culture Club; at college, I joined the African-American Society and the Black-Jewish Coalition. As an adult, I have participated in the National Writing Project’s Project Outreach Network with the goal of extending the quality and quantity of National Writing Project services to teachers in low-income communities. Most recently, I am a founding member of the NESCBWI Equity and Inclusion Committee, and an article I wrote about microaggressions was published in the January-February 2020 issue of NESCBWI News.
I’m thrilled that I can use my writing to introduce children to important concepts at an early age. Two books that I’m currently revising are about diversity of a different kind: a child with autism and a child with an incarcerated mother. All underrepresented and marginalized voices need to be heard and, I hope, responded to in ways that enhance the lives of those in such groups.
The Let’s Dance timeline is amazing: you decided to write for kids in December 2016, first queries June 2017, nibbles on #PBPitch June 2018, and acceptance two weeks later! Was that expected?
No, but it was certainly what I hoped for. I do not take it for granted that this book was published. Before Jes, an agent and another editor expressed interest in Let’s Dance! and then decided to pass. I’ve also continued to query other books that haven’t been accepted for publication yet, so I’m well aware that there are no guarantees that a particular book will be accepted for submission. As I said before, I am truly grateful.
Now that Boyds Mills & Kane is your publisher, why do you feel you need an agent?
Agents can negotiate better contracts, connect writers with good editors, and get books published with houses that only accept submissions from agents. On the other hand, if I don’t secure an agent soon, I will query editors and small presses, as I’ve done in the past.
How many places did you submit the story before Boyds Mills & Kane bit?
I submitted Let’s Dance! to 26 agents, editors, or small presses. Of the 26, I received two yeses: the first was from an agent who decided not to take me on as a client because she asked me to send her two other manuscripts and wasn’t as interested in those; the second yes was, of course, from Jes. I received eight “not interested” responses (one of which came 10 days after Jes’ yes), and 16 people didn’t bother to respond, which is common. If there’s no interest, there may not be a response.
Let’s Dance! is your first book. Is there another coming?
I have many in the works! I have about 15 other stories that I continue to revise, though five are “ready,” and I’ve been querying them. I’m also at work on a new story, which is my first attempt at a narrative non-fiction picture book.
If you could give beginning writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
If I could only give one piece of advice it would be: Go for it! However, as I told you before, brevity is not my strong suit, so I can’t name just one thing … especially if I sincerely want to be helpful. Thus, I would suggest the following:
- Immerse yourself in writing opportunities and in the writing community by taking a course, joining SCBWI, going to conferences, joining a critique group, and participating in contests.
- Continue writing, even when you face rejection.
Where else you can find Valerie: