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Today on Picture Book Therapy Thursday we have the wonderful Valerie Bolling!

Valerie Bolling's debut, LET’S DANCE! (illus. Maine Diaz, Boyds Mills & Kane), was published in 2020 and won a 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. In 2022 Valerie is happy to welcome TOGETHER WE RIDE (illus. Kaylani Juanita, Chronicle) and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! (illus. Sabrena Khadija, Abrams). Sequels to these books as well as a Scholastic early reader series (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 We Need Diverse Books mentor. She is deeply immersed in the kidlit writing community, particularly involved with SCBWI, the 12X12 Picture Book Challenge, and Black Creators HeadQuarters.

Today, Valerie is chatting with us about her newest release, Together We Ride! This book is a gentle way to start conversation with children about diversity, joy, community, and perseverance through the story of a father-daughter relationship and a bike ride.

Hair Love meets bike rides in this loving portrait of a father-daughter relationship.

Learning to ride is no easy feat! But with a little courage, a guiding hand from her dad, and an enthusiastic bark from her pup, one brave girl quickly learns the freedom that comes from an afternoon spent outside on a bike.

Experience the fear, the anticipation, and the delight of achieving the ultimate milestone in this energetic, warm story that celebrates the precious bond between parent and child.

Valerie, what inspired you to write TOGETHER WE RIDE?

All the children I saw riding bikes when taking my daily “mental health walks” with my husband during the COVID shutdown of spring 2020 were the inspiration for TOGETHER WE RIDE. In particular, there was a five-year-old girl who had just learned how to ride a bike. Her mother told me that all of the time they were spending at home had provided the opportunity for her to learn quickly. I decided to write a story about this exciting childhood milestone.

TOGETHER WE RIDE has less than 50 words but you manage to weave such a sweet interaction with a lot of unspoken story. What do you see as the deeper story?

Thank you for that compliment, Bethany. The deeper story is about perseverance and resilience and the intrinsic celebration that comes from achieving success. And, yes, having a loved one encouraging you along the way and cheering you on makes the success sweeter.

What was the process like from inspiration to getting published?

I enjoyed the process from idea to publication of TOGETHER WE RIDE because my editor, Elizabeth Lazowski, is collaborative and a pleasure to work with. She’s been a cheerleader for this book from the very beginning and is as excited as I am about its entrance into the world.

Do you have a part of the book that was your favorite to write or see illustrated?

My favorite illustration is the one for “Pump, Fly” because the main character is riding independently, purposefully, successfully – experiencing the thrill of victory connected to accomplishing a goal.

Why do you think this book is important for kids to have on the shelves?

This book inspires children to learn how to ride a bike! It may also inspire them to learn something else they’ve wanted to do or to succeed at something challenging. It will remind them of the joy that can be found engaging in outdoor activities with family.

How do you think parents, teachers, or counselors could use your books to engage in deeper conversations with kids?

Bethany, I think parents, teachers, or counselors can always use my books to talk about three things:

Diversity – Who do you see in these books? Which children do you most relate to? Which children are different from you, and what can you learn from them?

Joy – What are the activities you enjoy doing? Who do you enjoy doing them with? How do you feel when you succeed at a challenge? What things bring you joy? How can you share these things with others?

Connection/Community – What are the connections between the characters in the books? What do you learn about the larger community? Why is community important?

You have another book coming out in 2022, RIDE ROLL RUN: TIME FOR FUN! Tell us a bit about that book.

Here’s the description for RIDE ROLL RUN: TIME FOR FUN!

A joyful, rhyming picture book that is an ode to community and outdoor play

This energetic picture book celebrates community and friendship, following children as they play their way through their vibrant neighborhood.

If you like LET’S DANCE! and TOGETHER WE RIDE, you’ll like RIDE ROLL RUN: TIME FOR FUN! It’s written in sparse, rhyming text and exudes joy, diversity, and community.

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Welcome back to Picture Book Therapy Thursday! This week we have the lovely Carrie Finison on the blog.

Carrie Finison began her literary career at the age of seven with an idea, a box of markers, and her father’s typewriter. She has been writing off and on ever since, though she has (somewhat regretfully) traded in the typewriter for a laptop. She is the author of DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS (Putnam, 2020), DON’T HUG DOUG (Putnam, 2021), and HURRY, LITTLE TORTOISE (Random House, 2022). When she’s not writing, Carrie enjoys reading mystery novels, trying new recipes, and curling up on the couch for family movie nights. She lives outside Boston with her husband, son, daughter, and two cats who permit her to write in their cozy attic office.

Carrie is joining us to discuss DON'T HUG DOUG, her picture book focusing on bodily autonomy and consent.

Doug doesn’t like hugs. He thinks hugs are too squeezy, too squashy, too squooshy, too smooshy. He doesn’t like hello hugs or goodbye hugs, game-winning home run hugs or dropped ice cream cone hugs, and he definitely doesn’t like birthday hugs. He’d much rather give a high five–or a low five, a side five, a double five, or a spinny five. Yup, some people love hugs; other people don’t. So how can you tell if someone likes hugs or not? There’s only one way to find out: Ask! Because everybody gets to decide for themselves whether they want a hug or not.

Carrie, I'm so happy to feature you on the blog today. What inspired you to write Don’t Hug Doug? I knew this was a common problem—we all know kids who have gone through a no-hugs phase, kids who avoid hugs due to sensory issues, and conversely, kids (and—ahem!—adults) who are overenthusiastic huggers. So I thought it would be fun and an interesting challenge to write a story about a kid who doesn’t like hugs. There are lots of hug-positive books out there, but not so many about NOT hugging. What was the process like for Don't Hug Doug from inspiration to publication? After the initial idea, I wrote a story that was a very traditional narrative, told in the third person, about a boy named Doug whose aunt, uncle, and cousin came to visit and kept trying to hug him, and all the various ways that he avoided those hugs. I revised this version a bunch of times, but something didn’t sit right with me about the ending. In picture books, there’s a convention that the main character should solve their own problems. But in this case, the problem was that the adults weren’t listening to Doug or being sensitive to his preferences, and there wasn’t anything he could do to MAKE them listen. I put the story away for over a year, and when I brought it out again, I had an inspiration. Doug couldn’t make the adults in the story listen — but I could! So I rewrote it in the imperative voice, which literally requires the adult reader to say the phrase “Can I hug you?” over and over again. (Insert evil cackle by the all-powerful writer.) After that breakthrough, the manuscript sold quickly to an editor I was already working with on my debut book, Dozens of Doughnuts. The publisher selected Daniel Wiseman as the illustrator, and from that point it was fairly hands-off for me. Many people don’t realize that picture book authors and illustrators traditionally don’t speak at all during the illustration process. All communication goes through the editor and art director. There were a few points when I saw sketches and gave a little feedback, but for the most part I didn’t hear much for months, until the book was close to publication. I always enjoy hearing about the ways ideas change before they reach their final form! Re-writing in the imperative voice is such an excellent (evil genius) choice for this text. Do you have a scene or sentence in Don’t Hug Doug that was your favorite to write? I really loved writing the beginning, with the rhyme and the parenthetical asides, mainly because my sense of humor runs along the lines of snarky side commentary, and I like making myself laugh.

The first time I read this to my daughter, I laughed out loud at this image for so many reasons. The slug is my personal favorite. Why do you think this book is important for kids to have on the shelves? The topic of consent is one that can feel awkward to discuss, and I hope this book helps adult and child readers to talk about it in a way that feels comfortable and relaxed. For some, it may be the first time they ever considered the question of whether or not they actually like hugs, when, and from whom. And on the flip side, for the huggers in the room, it may be the first time they’ve practiced asking the question, “Can I hug you?" How do you think parents, teachers, or counselors could use your books to engage in deeper conversations with kids? I hope they will use Don’t Hug Doug to do some role playing. While reading, kids can take on the role of Doug and practice giving the kinds of answers he gives when asked for a hug. Then they can turn the tables and practice asking if it is OK to hug. Getting comfortable with this language is important! I’ve also heard anecdotally from parents that they appreciate having this book to hand to grandparents and other relatives when visiting with their kids. It can be hard for kids to give distant relatives a hug, especially when they haven’t seen them in a long time, and it can be hard for a would-be hugger to feel like their affection is being rejected. I hope that the book provides a spark for open conversations about that.

What a great way to practice role playing this issue on both the parts of the adults and the kids. My own daughter often doesn't feel "touchy" so we are working on how to state that to others.

Do you have any advice for authors who want to write about tough topics for kids? Always keep the child’s point of view in mind, and try for some humor. Sometimes these topics are only difficult because the adults make them so. When you approach things in a matter-of-fact, or even humorous way, it’s really not that hard. Try to drop your adult conditioning and inhibitions and think about the topic as a child would. Tell us about your upcoming books! I have two books coming out in the summer of 2022 that I can’t wait to share with the world.

LULU & ZOEY: A SISTER STORY, illustrated by Brittany Jackson (Running Press Kids, June 7, 2022) is about two sisters who don’t always get along, but ultimately find a creative project that brings them together and helps them open their hearts to each other. Kirkus Reviews said “the sisters’ relationship is refreshingly realistic” — which comes from personal experience as I have two sisters, myself.

HURRY, LITTLE TORTOISE, TIME FOR SCHOOL!, illustrated by Erin Kraan (Random House Studio, July 19, 2022) follows a little tortoise as she tries to get to school on time, which of course goes against her very nature. She gets frustrated when all the other students pass her on the way to school, but then makes a lovely connection with her new teacher that both validates and empowers her. I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say that her teacher is VERY familiar with being slow.

Carrie, thank you so much again for taking the time to chat with me about Don't Hug Doug and your upcoming books! I can't wait to add these new books to my shelf.

For more about Carrie, visit her website or follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

To stay up to date on Picture Book Therapy Thursdays, giveaways, book news, and more subscribe to my newsletter or follow me on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook @bookshelfofbeth!

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This week on Picture Book Therapy Thursday we have a conversation with Emma Sandford of Full Media Ltd. on her Sumatran Trilogy books!

Emma! Thank you for joining us for Picture Book Therapy Thursday. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I am a Liverpool-born children’s author based in Cheshire. For many years, I wanted to write a children’s book that draws on my own experiences and helps young children overcome personal issues.

My first book The Problem with Poppy was published in June 2021. The second book in the Sumatran Trilogy – What’s Troubling Tawny? – was published in January 2022.The third and final book in the Sumatran Trilogy – Hooray For Heidi!– is being illustrated by Olena Osadcha as we speak and will be published in June 2022. All three books are endorsed by Rainforest Trust UK and I give £1 per book sale to the charity.

What inspired you to write The Problem With Poppy?

In 2021, I decided I wanted to write a book for young children that could help them deal with trauma and trust issues. Unfortunately, I’ve suffered numerous avenues of trauma throughout my life, from childhood to adulthood, and as a result I can be very defensive and push people away. This can be useful when dealing with nasty people, but it’s not helpful when I meet a nice person who wants to get close to me. So I started thinking about writing a story about a character who is defensive. I pondered types of animals that act visibly defensive and the first animal I thought of was the porcupine! They stick out their quills to make themselves look bigger and fiercer, so that was my light-bulb moment, and the rest of the story flowed quite quickly from that point on: Poppy the porcupine meets a playful, well-meaning tiger cub called Rory and initially scares him off because he accidentally frightens her. She realises her mistake and then decides she needs to fix her problem once and for all, and goes off to find the friendly cub to make amends.

This is a great kid-friendly way to introduce trauma and it's effects. What was the process like from inspiration to getting published?

Well, I am very fortunate because my partner Nick runs a children’s book publisher! So when I told him the idea, he was very supportive. He told me to get it all down on paper, so I did. Then we both went over it and refined it where necessary, and soon I was ready to find myself an illustrator. I approached around 10 artists on the website and very quickly settled on Olena Osadcha in Ukraine. I just loved her style, it was perfect for my story. A few months and a successful Kickstarter campaign later, the book was illustrated and we published it through Full Media Ltd. I should also point out that when the book was still at Word doc stage, we approached Rainforest Trust UK to see if they would endorse the book, let us add their logo to the book and in return we would give them £1 per book sale. They loved the story and very quickly said yes to our proposal, and this partnership has continued for the other two books in the Sumatran Trilogy!

Tell us about the second book in your series, What’s Troubling Tawny? And the upcoming third book.

What’s Troubling Tawny? is a sweet story about a lonely Sumatran rhino who wants to make a friend but her shyness holds her back. She lacks self-confidence and doesn’t think she looks as nice as other animals in the rainforest. Then she meets Tallulah, a charming and beautiful rhinoceros hornbill who really brings her out of her shell. When they spot a male rhino nearby, Tallulah encourages her to approach him and – well, you’ll have to read the book to find out how it ends!

Hooray for Heidi is scheduled for release in the summer and is being illustrated by Olena as we speak. It’s a much funnier story than the previous two, as it features Sumatran animals taking part in their own version of the Olympics! Heidi the turtle and her new friend Jose the elephant are watching the games and feel jealous because they are not cut out for sports – or so they think!

I love the idea of the body positivity aspects to your third book. I'm sure it will be beautiful to see it come to life.

Do you have a scene or a sentence in any of your books that is your favorite?

It’s really hard to pick one, but possibly my favorite scene is when Tawny and her new friend Rusty the rhino are talking about what food they like best, and Olena has framed the two characters with their favorite food:

Why do you think these books are important for kids to have on the shelves?

I think that if a child has been affected by any of the social issues covered in the books, they will be able to relate to the books and it may encourage them to talk to a grown-up or a friend where previously they felt unable to open up. I also think that books like mine can be useful to kids who haven’t experienced the issues themselves, as it may help them understand and empathise with people who have. Finally, I’m hopeful that the environmental issues that the books also highlight, such as the threat of poaching, will interest children and encourage them to learn more about the wonderful creatures in the Sumatran rainforest.

How do you think parents, teachers, or counselors could use your books to engage in deeper conversations with kids?

I like to think that the books’ messages are quite subtle and that the stories are entertaining, first and foremost. Therefore I believe that parents, teachers and counselors could simply read the book and enjoy it first as entertainment, and then the child can be encouraged to discuss the story in more detail. In fact, a local charity called Visyon already use The Problem with Poppy when they have therapy sessions with children, and I know of two child psychologists who have endorsed the book as an aid for therapeutic work and work around peer relationships.

Do you have any advice for authors who want to write about tough topics for kids?

My first piece advice for authors writing any book, tough topics or not, is just to write it. Don’t overthink it, don’t procrastinate, don’t worry about perfection at this early stage – just get it down on paper, in any shape or form, because you can always go back and improve it once it’s on the page.

In terms of writing about tough topics, I think it’s important to convey your messages in a subtle way – don’t ram it down the readers’ throats as nobody likes being lectured to, whatever age they are. It’s far better to concentrate on the story and let it do the talking. Show rather than tell. When I’m reading a book or watching a film myself, I find it more satisfying and rewarding when I pick up on subtle messages independently, and I think this applies to children too.

Where can we connect with you on social media to follow your upcoming projects?

My Instagram profile is emmasauthor and my Twitter handle is @esandfordauthor. I’m not on Facebook but you can always follow my publisher’s page:

My website is

Thank you Emma for taking the time to tell us more about your books and how they can be used to engage kids! Readers, be sure to check out Emma's books here.

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