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The Backstory: LET'S DANCE!

I am excited to welcome today's guest, Valerie Bolling to The Backstory. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Valerie a little bit over the last several months and she is a wealth of knowledge and encouragement.

Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind LET’S DANCE!

First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.

LET’S DANCE! is a 60-word rhyming book that celebrates dances from around the world and the diverse children who enjoy them. The book invites young readers to move – tap, spin, twirl, and leap – as they read along.

60 words! That is an incredible accomplishment to say so much with so few words. And the concept is spot on. Anyone who has observed children for any length of time can tell how natural it is for them to be wiggling and giggling.

What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?

Andrew, my inspiration for LET’S DANCE! came from my observations. I’ve noticed that most people love to dance! Turn on music, and watch them move and groove. Even babies who can barely walk will sway and/or raise their hands.

I wanted to write a book that would showcase people’s connection to dance as an activity we can all enjoy together, regardless of our background – no matter who we are. The first sentence of my pitch for LET’S DANCE! was “Dancing is a universal language, even though we all have different ‘accents.’” Maine Diaz’s brilliant illustrations highlight the joy of dance as well as my vision for diversity and inclusiveness.

I love this inspiration and message! It comes across so strong and Maine's illustrations bring such energy and movement to your words. They are a perfect pairing.

How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now LET’S DANCE? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?

Since I wrote the first draft three and a half years ago, it’s hard to remember the exact details, but I recall the story coming to me fairly quickly. I didn’t sit with it for long. Once the idea came to me, I choreographed it onto the page.

Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?

On December 28, 2020, I tweeted to the #kidlit community:

Where do you get your story ideas?


My 3 current WIPs:

1. Something my husband said

2. An experience I had

3. Suggestion by my mentor

As you can see, my ideas come to me in a variety of ways. It is astounding the number of places writers can derive inspiration. Your tweet is a great example of this!

What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?

Andrew, books are life to writers. We must read in order to write. Reading others’ stories help us craft and revise our own.

A number of books have had an impact on my writing because they’ve served as mentor texts. For beautiful, heartfelt language, I love to read books by Jacqueline Woodson and Kelly Starling Lyons. I can point to sentences in my manuscripts that were inspired by COMING ON HOME by Woodson and TIARA’S HAT PARADE by Starling Lyons. Oge Mora’s SATURDAY gave me an idea for how to end one of my stories, and, most recently, in my study of picture book biographies, Andrea Davis Pinkney’s BOYCOTT BLUES: HOW ROSA PARKS INSPIRED A NATION sparked an idea for a metaphor in one of my manuscripts.

For LET’S DANCE!, a friend recommended I read WATERSONG by Tim McCanna. That book served as a wonderful mentor text as I revised the story.

I couldn't agree more with you about the power of mentor texts. What a great way to be familiar with the market and grow your craft.

What are the must-haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?

The main thing I need in my workspace is my computer. I may have notes and/or mentor texts, but everything I write is on my computer. I draft on my computer, not in a notebook. If I need to look up synonyms for a word, I do that on my computer. Since I use a laptop, my workspace can change, and it does.

I may write at my desk, in the family room, at the kitchen table, and – when the weather is ideal – outside on the deck. Music inspires writing for some, but I prefer quiet when I write. Sometimes a cup of tea is involved.

Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?

  • Read A LOT in the genre you write.

  • Write often and revise even more.

  • Find a critique group.

  • Become active in the writing community and take advantage of all opportunities.

  • Become a member of SCBWI.

  • Sign up for 12 X 12 with Julie Hedlund.

  • Participate in Twitter pitches and enter contests.

  • Attend conferences and Agent/Editor Days.

  • Register for webinars.

  • Stick with it!

Such great, actionable advice, Valerie! I feel this could be a "getting started" checklist for anyone wanting to enter into the kidlit community. Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?

Andrew, I’m happy to share that I have two books that will be released in 2022 and two more are slated for 2023.

Here’s an announcement for two of the books:

The other books haven’t been announced yet, so keep an eye out!

Valerie that is such great news! Congratulations! The two announced books sound wonderful and I can only imagine the other two will be equally amazing. I cannot wait to read them all!

Where can people connect more with you?

People can connect with me on Twitter and on Instagram My website is a great place to find out about my events and read other interviews.



Valerie is generously offering a 15-minute phone call to one lucky writer. The winner will be announced on Tuesday.

To enter you can...

1. Leave a comment on this post.


2. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!


Interested in being featured on The Backstory? Click here

Dates are still available for October, November & December.



Valerie Bolling has been an educator for 28 years, and her debut picture book, LET’S DANCE! was published in March. Since her book was released a week before the pandemic shutdown, she has been engaged in virtual storytimes and author panels. Immersed in the writing community, Valerie serves as the co-chair of the NESCBWI Equity and Inclusion Team and is a member of SCBWI, the Authors Guild, and NCTE. She is also a 2020 WNDB Mentee and a member of Kid Lit in Color, Black Creators in Kid Lit, Soaring 20s PBs: 2021 and Beyond, 12X12 Picture Book Challenge, and two picture book critique groups. Valerie has two books scheduled for release in 2022 and two more slated for 2023.



Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.

A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.

While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.

Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Flannery Literary.

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Feb 26, 2021

Great concept for a book--I agree that dancing is universal! I love your pitch line about different people having different "accents."


Feb 03, 2021

Let's Dance is a favorite is our house!! Can't wait for your next books, Valerie!


Feb 03, 2021

Thank you Valerie for your encouragement and reminder to read, read, read!


Feb 03, 2021

Thanks Valerie--You are an inspiration! 60 beautifully choreographed word--Amazing!!!

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