Hey #KidLitCliffNotes readers!
I’m excited to share this interview with Valerie Bolling, author of LET’S DANCE! (2020) with art by the incredible Maine Diaz. She has graciously taken some time out her schedule for this #KidLitCliffsNotes interview.
Valerie Bolling, author of LET’S DANCE!, has been an educator for over 25 years and a writer since age 4. She is a graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University, Teachers College and currently works as an Instructional Coach. Her nieces inspired her to write picture books. Her desire is for children of all backgrounds to see themselves in her stories, and to feel seen, heard, valued, and validated.
6 Questions with Valerie
KLCN #1: The opening line to LET’S DANCE! is “Tappity-tap/Fingers snap” and sets the stage for a lyrical picture book. Did the poetic, couplet format come naturally?
VB: I knew I wanted to use rhyme because its rhythm and cadence seemed a natural match for dance. However, the first draft of LET’S DANCE! was written in quatrains. For example, the opening had been “I love to dance/Tappity-tap/I love to dance/Fingers snap;” those lines appeared further in the story, not at the beginning.
KLCN: Snappy beginnings are important!
KLCN #2: Without giving away the ending, I want to say I was surprised and delighted. LET’S DANCE! is not a traditional three act/three trials story arc. How did you decide on that arc?
VB: You’re right! LET’S DANCE doesn’t have a a traditional story arc. It’s just one continuous dance party! It made sense to me that the story would end in the way it does. It exemplifies how a person would likely feel after a day – or night – of dancing. It also adds to the book’s versatility because it can be read during the day and bedtime.
KLCN: I love that you that you thought about WHEN and WHO would be reading the book.
KLCN #3: Did any mentor texts help you come to that ending?
VB: I wasn’t influenced by a particular mentor text for the ending, but perhaps by a compilation of children’s books.
KCLN: Totally agree. When you read often, stories influence our writing all the time!
KLCN #4: I found your book as part of the #kidlit community on Twitter. It’s quite a feat to write such an engaging story in 60 words. Any tips for writers looking to pair down their text?
VB: In LET’S DANCE! I reduced my word count from 110 to 60 words. For example, I changed the verses from quatrains to couplets. By removing the refrain, “I love to dance” it made my story stronger.
KLCN: Thanks for the practical tips. I imagine that it took some bravery to be willing to restructure the whole story!
KLCN #5: I love how your story invites the readers to boogie along. Did you try to learn the dances? What research did you do?
VB: No, I didn’t try to learn the dances, but that’s a great suggestion, Mel! I didn’t set out to write this as a book about dances from around world (that was the magnificent vision of my editor, Jes Negrón), so I didn’t do any research initially. I took what I knew about dances from my own experience in college when I learned a Guinean dance called the Kuku, and from watching people, to choose words that described dance movements.
KLCN: That goes to show how it does take a village to write a story!
KLCN #6: Let’s talk a little about the backmatter. You could have included a lot of information, but instead provided bite-sized nuggets. How did you decide to choose that format?
VB: When Jes asked me to write backmatter, that’s when I did some research. Frankly – though perhaps it’s “unwriterly” of me to admit this – I used Wikipedia because I wanted to obtain the information quickly and Jes recommended only two sentences per dance.
KLCN: Plenty of us use Wikipedia. It’s an open secret.
KLCN: The backmatter dances off the page.
KLCN: Valerie, this has been an amazing interview! I’ve learned so much. Thank you for your time!