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Picture Book Therapy Thursday: Valerie Bolling on "Together We Ride"

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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