Book Review + Interview — Let’s Dance! by Valerie Bolling

Here I am, again, celebrating the birth of a brand new picture book and asking all the questions! Valerie and I first crossed paths in 12×12, a year-long picture book writing challenge hosted by author Julie Hedlund. I have the good fortune to be participating for the second time this year (the first being 2018, with a 2019 hiatus) and am blessed to find old & new writerly friends. Valerie falls into the second category, but based on this precious debut work, I expect we’ll be reading much more from her (which, hopefully means, I’ll keep asking questions!) Enjoy!

Book Review: In a word, LET’S DANCE! is delightful. Truthfully, though, it needs much more than words to describe it… it needs all the best moves! With sparse, rhyming text and lively illustrations, this book introduces kids to dance moves from around the world, all from the comfort of their own space. I dare you to read it and not feel the rhythm stir in your soul. Geared for the picture book sweet spot, as far as target audiences go, LET’S DANCE! has a universal appeal. In a world that hopes for more inclusivity and diversity, this book is a shining star.

Interview: Valerie, thanks for being here! Can you believe that tomorrow is the big day? Before we go any further, can I get you something to drink?

What I drink most is water – straight from the tap or from the water filling stations in the school buildings in which I work. I drink water all day, so a glass of wine or a cup of herbal tea is welcome in the evening. Now, if you happen to have a frozen fruit margarita (no salt), that would be particularly awesome!

I’m with you on the water; all day every day. But, since your book hits shelves TOMORROW, this calls for more… margaritas (hold the salt) for everyone! I love this book for so many reasons. Let’s start with the text, though. It’s so sparse and rhymes so well. Do you always write in rhyme?

That’s a true compliment!

I do not always write in rhyme. Currently, I have three other rhyming stories, but the majority of my writing is prose. What’s ironic is that I started writing “poetry” in first grade. I had a black and white marble composition book that I used to capture my poetic musings. I loved creating simple rhymes, using the most recent phonics lesson I had learned in school. I created “masterpieces” like: “There is a cat. It sat on a mat. It caught a rat.” How interesting that my writing career has come full circle, that my first published book features rhyme.

Well, it feels effortless so it doesn’t surprise me that it’s been such a big part of your life. The illustrator of LET’S DANCE, Maine Diaz, did a tremendous job bringing the different forms of dance to life. She also was incredibly inclusive in the children she portrayed. I know that this is important to you also. Did you two talk about the illustrations, or did you two just share a vision in the most wonderful, picture-book magic way?

Maine did a tremendous job of bringing my book to life, of making my book boogie! What an incredible artist she is!

As is typical during the publication process, Maine and I did not communicate. Our editor, Jes Negrón, is the one with whom we both communicated. Jes asked what my vision was, and tweaked it to add the global aspect, but we both agreed that we wanted the book to feature children of diverse backgrounds – race, gender, abilities. Jes communicated this to Maine, and Maine obviously kept this in mind as she did what she does best.

Maine and I now follow each other on Instagram and have been in touch via email. I invited her to my book launch event, but she’s unable to attend because she lives in Argentina – another global connection with the book.

Oh, how wonderful! I also love the short descriptions of each style of dance included at the end of the book. It feels like a delicious little dollop of backmatter. Do you have a favorite form of dance?

I love all expressions of dance!

I took African dance classes in college and, later, at Connecticut Ballet – yes, African dance at a ballet studio. Usually, I just like to “freestyle,” do whatever dance I like, to the music being played. I especially like line dances, like the electric slide, cha-cha slide, and the cupid shuffle.

Our paths first crossed thanks to Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Writing Challenge. Like I said earlier, this is my second time participating. Is this your first year? What’s your favorite part so far?

This is my first year participating. I do with I had more time to be more involved on Facebook & in the Forum; I try to check in when I can. My favorite parts are the webinars and connecting with other writers.

The webinars have been FANTASTIC so far, though I do still have a replay to watch. It’s the community and accountability that called me back this year. Last year without 12×12, I felt like I was writing on an island! I’m so grateful to be back. Another thing I want to ask you about… author visits. They are often an important part of the book release process. Since you’ve been an educator for 27 years, I believe you’re at an advantage! Do you have a game plan in place?

I’ve actually already been approached about school visits, both within and outside of my district, and my book has not yet been released! I have several dates on my calendar and am looking forward to these visits. Since I’m very comfortable in school environments, I have an advantage over some authors. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that nerves won’t kick in, and that I don’t worry about keeping the students’ interest. I have to plan for these visits the way that, as a classroom teacher, I used to plan lessons for my students.

The first step for all of my visits is to find out about the group of students I’ll see and what they and they their teachers expect from me. I want to tailor each visit to the particular group of students. There’s a difference between kindergarteners and 5th graders. There’s a difference between planning for a 15-minute visit versus one that lasts for an hour. There’s a difference between speaking to one class and presenting at an assembly.

When I was asked about how I’d like the spaces set up for my visits, my request was to sit in a chair with children in chairs or on the floor in front of me. I want the children to be comfortable; I want to be close to them; I want to have a conversation with them. I don’t only want to answer their questions, I want to be able to ask them questions, too – to get to know them as best I can in the time we have together.

Now that you’re (almost) officially on the other side of ‘published’, was there anything that surprised you about the process?

I think what has surprised me the most is how much time I’m spending on promoting Let’s Dance! I didn’t realize how much work I’d need to do to get out news about a traditionally published book. However, I understand that I can’t expect the publisher to make the local connections that I’m making with libraries, bookstores, and schools.

I intend to reach out to anyone who may be helpful with promoting my book, including dance studios and dance apparel stores. It’s a lot of work but gratifying when I connect with people like you, Jennifer, who are willing to interview and/or review my book.

Your readers, as well, are invaluable in this process because, even if they don’t purchase a copy of my book, they can encourage their local libraries, bookstores, children’s schools, and dance studios to purchase the book.

Yes! Yes! To all of the above. I can’t wait to read more from you, my friend! Do you have anything else coming down the pipe?

I hope I’ll be able to report soon that I have another book that will be published. I’m in the midst of revising two manuscripts that I hope to be able to query next month. I also have several books in the query queue, meaning I haven’t yet received responses from most of the queries I sent out in November and December.

Even with all the time I’m spending on promoting, I am committed to making time for writing, too. My hope is that with all the hard work I’m putting in now and the connections I’m making, the next book will be a bit less time-intensive. Then again … it probably won’t be. It’s a good thing I’m enjoying all of this – the writing and revising, celebrating and promoting Let’s Dance!, and the entire journey.

I’m so glad to hear you’ve been enjoying it all. Fingers crossed one of those queries brings back good news! In the mean time, where can my readers find & follow you on social media?

Thank you for taking the time to interview me, Jennifer. I’ll have another glass of water, please … or better yet, a glass of wine.

Website: http://valeriebolling.com/index.html

Facebook — Twitter @valerie_bolling — Instagram (author & book)

Yes! Cheers! Thanks so much for being here, Valerie!

I hope you’ve fallen hard and fast for this precious book! It certainly deserves space on your shelf. There are more Book Review + Interviews to come. Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Book Review + Interview — Pirates Stuck at “C” by Brooke Van Sickle

Hello friends! I’m thrilled you’re here for the kickoff of my new series, Book Review + Interview. Today, I have the pleasure of sharing my conversation with debut picture book author and publisher, Brooke Van Sickle (& if you read down to the end, there’s a giveaway too!)

But first, a book review: Pirate’s Stuck at “C”- an Alphabet Adventure is as clever as the title implies. While Kindergarten students are right in the sweet spot for all this book has to offer, kids age 4-8 will enjoy it’s humor and heart. When a band of pirates (led by none other than Captain Scallywag himself) disembark to search for buried treasure, the shenanigans they find are as different and delightful as the alphabet itself. The colorful illustrations are a treat for the eyes and the text is easy and entertaining, promising to engage readers of all ages.

Now, the interview: Brooke, thank you so much for being here. Our writing journeys started about the same time, and I know you’ve learned a lot in the process. I can’t wait to pick your brain, but first, I start all my interviews the same way: Can I get you something to drink?

Since it’s still early, I’ll take an iced latte. But if we feel up to a real drink, I’m always down for a hard seltzer.

I’m never one to turn down coffee, iced or otherwise! (Truthfully, the weather in my corner of the world often lends itself to cool & refreshing over warm & cozy anyway.) Let’s start at the beginning, who were the people that helped you to start learning the ins-&-outs of the picture book world? 

I had a great mentor in a fellow author who introduced me to my area writing group and got me connected to my first conference. From there I met my core group of SCBWI ladies and found a critique group who’s been with me ever since.  But a lot of my learning came from reading new picture books, and writing tons and tons of manuscripts. It was all that practice and willingness to take critiques seriously that helped me grow as a writer.

Your website, Journey to Kid Lit is a treasure trove of resources! What is your favorite, most underrated piece of publishing advice for aspiring authors? 

Thank you so much! That means a lot. My favorite, most underrated piece of advice is something that I’ve only heard suggested one other time. Everyone knows you should read books in your genre, but, someone once suggested you type out what you read. I’ve done this for both novels and picture books and it’s amazing! You get in the head of the writer, can visually see what a manuscript looks like as a non-illustrating picture book writer, and ultimately learn what it takes to write a good first line, voice, scene, etc. If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend. (I even go as far as to write the back of the book cover to help me with my pitches and blurb copy!)

I’ve actually heard that before! I guess it’s time I try it. With this book, you not only became a published author, you earned your Publisher badge too! Is there anything about the publishing process that surprised you? Can you talk a little about your experience with BiblioKid?

I’m actually surprised at the timing of everything. Since this is my first book, I’ve been coordinating with printers, illustrators, libraries, Congress, reviewers, etc. and the timing has been a learning curve. A lot of publishing happens way in advance but as a smaller house, we don’t want to produce thousands of copies months in advance, nor do we have to wait months for a book to come out. So it’s been a learning curve to make sure everything comes out on time and when I say it will. (Just setting myself up to be an expert by book 2!)

Fun fact: Bibliokids donates a portion of each book’s proceeds to support low income schools! See website for more information. Now, for the real reason we’re here, PIRATES STUCK AT “C”- AN ALPHABET ADVENTURE is a delightful, tale that makes learning the alphabet engaging and fun. I have to ask, what’s your favorite letter?

Awe, thank you so much! I love them all, but I do have 2 favorites. Jughead jumping from a jellyfish sting is my favorite play of words because of all the alliteration and how silly his name is. And, I absolutely love the spread with Marty splashing with Mermaids and Ollie with an octopus on her head. Gaby did a great job with the illustrations on that one.

Yes, she did! To be fair to the other letters, though, she did a great job with ALL of the illustrations. I know you’re really involved with your local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. How has that organization helped to guide you on your journey? 

Yes! I can’t recommend it enough. SCBWI is an amazing place to meet and connect with other kidlit writers. It’s where I’ve met most of my potential industry contacts, my critique group, and all my writing friends. Plus, it was really beneficial in the beginning to learn about formatting, query writing, and where to send my stories too.

Now, I’m the regional webmaster for my area, so I’ve gotten really involved with local events and conferences. I enjoy being able to give back to the society that’s helped me so much and to be able to help new writers like I once was. Without more experienced writers helping me, I don’t think I would be here talking to you, so I want to be able to do the same for someone else.

For more information or to find info on your region, check here! I’ve been a member of the LA/MS Region for almost three years now! Brooke, do you have anything coming down the pipe in 2020? Where can my readers find & follow you on social media? 

YES! So many awesome new things. I have 3 picture books coming out this year – the first being PIRATES STUCK AT “C” in February then HUMANS IN-TRAINING in June and TOGETHER IN OUR CASTLE in September. I’m very excited for book number two. My illustrator, Stephanie Vanderpol, has been coming up with hilarious spreads that I can’t wait to share.

If you want to learn more about me, I have a new website my future hubby made me at brookevansickle.com. You can find out all about BiblioKid Publishing at their website bibliokidpublishing.com.

And for anyone interested in writing books for kids, as Jen mentioned, I share all my tips at journeytokidlit.com and through Twitter @authorbrookevs.

I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Brooke as much as I did! She’s generously offered to a Rafflecopter giveaway.

Click the link above to enter for a change to win a copy of PIRATES STUCK AT “C”!

I hope you enjoyed our conversation! Come back next week, I have another wonderful Book Review + Interview to share!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

An evil act of trade – – Lessons from The Giver quartet

I can’t tell you how old I was the first time I read Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER, published in 1993. I do remember that it had a profound impact and I’ve carried it with me ever since (in that figurative, literary way, of course.) If you are feeling fuzzy, here’s a refresher… Jonas, a 12 year old boy in a post-apocalyptic world void of color, originality and feeling is assigned a job as the Receiver of Memories and it’s all downhill (or, uphill) from there.

Little did I know, the story continued! At the tail end of 2019, my eyes were opened to the subsequent stories. From 2000-2012, the author released three more installations and having read them as an adult, I can speak to their power and brilliance. If you have not yet read GATHERING BLUE (2000), THE MESSENGER (2004) and SON (2012), please do so… soon. The incredible cast of characters will leave a lasting impression, I promise. The lessons are invaluable and incredibly applicable, years after their release.  There’s one in particular character that I can’t stop thinking about. His name is Trademaster.

A Trade.

Trademaster, the ultimate antagonist is as despicable as Jonas’ eyes are blue, and carries with him the stench of despair. Like his name implies, he offers the other characters something they want, in return for something they have; but it’s not what you think. Often what’s given up isn’t tangible or obvious, which his where is true power lies. The small things traded eventually become life-altering, and his power grows infinitely more dangerous and deadly.

Much like when I was a child, and maybe even more so now, these books have moved me.  I can’t wait for my kids to be old enough to read them.  I need them to know Jonas, Matty, Kira, the Seer & Clair. I also need them to know Trademaster. They have to be able to recognize what those trades look like in their own life, because the characters who see him for what he is, are able to keep a safe distance. It’s obvious to me, a Millennial/Gen X blend, responsible for raising these little people, that one of the first of these to be identified must be social media.

At what cost?

Ironic, sure, that I’m sharing this on the same platform I’m calling out, but indulge me for a moment. It’s not ALL social media I’m referring to, it’s the ugly side. The need to project perfect images so the world doesn’t see you struggle. It’s not just ‘keeping-up-with-the-Joneses’ anymore, it’s obsessing about them. It’s forming constant comparisons that inevitably result in envy, one-upmanship and the tragedy of living an inauthentic life.  The envy is bad.  The need for validation is worse. The almighty ‘like’ carries far more power than one button ever should. I cringe when I consider the amount of time I’ve wasted (or better yet, traded,) comparing, wanting and judging as I scroll through… even today. I’ve given precious minutes that I’ll never get back.  I’ve offered my best energy to something that has nothing to give in return but frustration and doubt.  I’ve traded my self-confidence, self-awareness and self-love in return for what?

If none of this resonates with you, because you have healthy boundaries for your social media interaction, I applaud you. I’m working on it and am (hopefully) getting better every day.  I was there when it was born; social media I mean. Not physically there, but I remember hearing about each platform as it came to life.  I can tell you when/where I signed up to take part.  I’ve also seen the ugly spiral, which is only worsening with the millions of trades being made each day as people continue to believe the lies, deceit and ridicule that flow freely. Even the most authentic of posts, with the best of intentions, are heavy with the burden of someone’s self worth, falling victim to trolling, and/or are responsible for pulling energy and attention away from the things and people that matter.

The Answer.

To be fair, the Trade Mart started off innocently enough and served a great purpose, just like social media. It’s a shame that neither stopped there. The first thing that we have to do is identify our trades and evaluate our intentions. My time and energy should be for myself, my family and my creativity.  I can’t continue sacrificing it just to appease vanity, curiosity or my wavering self-esteem.

As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends, we carry the responsibility of providing the little people in our life with a full set of tools for the rest of theirs. We can be their Leader, blessed with experience, wisdom and hopefully, the courage to resist a Trade, regardless of its appeal. I can’t tell you how the series ends, obviously. But I will say that at least one scene in the story holds a key to releasing the grasp that Trademaster has on our society…it involves awareness, empathy and love. Lois Lowry is a brilliant, award-winning author many books to her name. These four, though, offer a road-map to a better way. It’s time to stand up and stop trading the best parts of ourselves to social media and anything else that slowly takes what it does not deserve. As a society, it’s our only hope.

For more on the series and what makes it so important check out this 2012  New York Times article.

 

I’m trying to settle in here, at my new place. I have exciting interviews and book reviews coming up and I hope you’ll visit again.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

What’s the Why? My Picture Book Equation.

Originally posted on @ Magnolias & Manuscripts.

This morning, I witnessed magic in my living room.  The kind that gently pulls everyone together, under the same spell, before anyone realizes what’s happening. It was a sticky July morning, windows wet with condensation and the smell of pancakes still wafting from the kitchen. (OC gets credit those, she’s a whiz with a spatula.)  It was there, in the sweet spot after breakfast but before the day really got started that YC, he’s 5 now, came to me with a book. It wasn’t one of our newest ones. It wasn’t shiny, or silly but it was long overdue. This summer has been filled with family board games, movie nights and vacations. We’ve been soaking up the laughter and the late nights, but it has been light on bed time stories.

A few weeks back I wrote about my struggles with our kids losing interest in picture books. Even the youngest, is choosing longer, more advanced stories that we read by chapters. But this book? This was an old favorite. We snuggled together on the sofa and I honestly don’t know who was more excited.  Most days, I would call for my other kiddos to join us, this time, I just started reading. It didn’t take long, two, maybe three pages into the book and MC was sitting near his brother while OC snuggled up by my shoulder.  For the beautiful few moments it took us to read about “Mike Mulligan, Mary Ann and some others…” the house was quiet and everyone was entranced.  Picture book magic, my favorite kind. I was elated to see it still exists, and reminded of the times I’ve seen its power in the past.  There have been teenage nieces and nephews, stopped in their tracks by a bed time story. Neighborhood kids who declare they don’t like reading, mesmerized by the power of words read from a picture book page..Picture books are magic in its purest, most approachable form, and that is why I’m so drawn to write them. 

It’s easy to lose track of the ‘why I write picture books’ as I’m trying to find my own version of ‘how.’  I need to make sure that I stay driven by the ‘why’, and not bogged down by the ‘when’. I know that I have a lot to learn, but the answer to the ‘why’ will remind me that I don’t necessarily need to have a ‘who’ in order to find success.  There are no shortage of elements in the publishing equation, I need to remember that the ‘why’ is the most important. I write picture books because I want to connect with the most genuine members of the human race.  I want to speak in a language that they understand, and tell stories that resonate with their precious little spirits.  I want to make them laugh, and most importantly let them know they are seen.

 

Stay tuned for the exciting interviews in coming months!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Foresight is 2020!

Happy New Year! I’m excited to be launching a new website! I’ve included links to some contest entries, writing challenges and blog posts previously published on Magnolias & Manuscripts. But, with a new decade upon us, exciting interviews to share and continued optimism that I’ll figure this whole ‘getting published’ thing out, I thought it time to give my (internet)self a facelift! 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP