Day 7: Valerie Bolling

Valerie Bolling is a passionate author of books for young readers.  She has a beautiful spirit for sharing knowledge with fellow creators who also want to do this good work.  The Brown Bookshelf is pleased to feature such a prolific author who is charting a course of success in book publishing.

VALERIE BOLLING is passionate about creating stories in which all children can see themselves and feel seen and heard, valued and validated. She is the author of six picture books — LET’S DANCE! (SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner), TOGETHER WE RIDE, TOGETHER WE SWIM (2023 Kirkus Prize Finalist), RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN!, BING, BOP, BAM: TIME TO JAM!, and I SEE COLOR (Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection) — as well as a Scholastic Acorn early reader series, RAINBOW DAYS.

A graduate of Tufts University and Teachers College, Columbia University, Valerie was an educator for 30 years and is an active member of the kidlit community. In addition to being an Amplify Black Stories member, she’s a member of SCBWI, the 12X12 Picture Book Challenge, Black Creators HeadQuarters, Diverse Verse, two co-marketing groups (KidLit in Color and Soaring 20s), and three critique groups. She also teaches picture book classes (independently and for the Highlights Foundation), presents at conferences, and participates in book festivals. Valerie enjoys teaching both students and adults and inspiring them to write their own stories. She lives in Connecticut with her husband where they enjoy traveling, hiking, reading, going to the theater, and dancing.

Publication Journey

I first considered writing books for children during a weeklong visit with my nieces in December 2016. After their visit, I wrote stories in which each girl was the main character. I then decided I wanted to write more stories and investigate the possibility of having them published. That was one of the goals I set in 2017.

I wrote LET’S DANCE! (illustrated by Maine Diaz) in June 2017, and began querying it in January 2018. I had an agent express interest that February, but when I sent two other manuscripts, she said she envisioned a harder sell with those, so she didn’t offer representation. Truthfully, those stories weren’t ready. I didn’t realize at the time that when querying an agent, I needed several polished manuscripts that had been critiqued by others.

Fortunately, LET’S DANCE! was acquired in June 2018 as a result of a #PBPitch “like” I received from Jes Négron, an editor at what is now Astra Publishing. That book was published on March 3, 2020. I had an amazing launch celebration at my local library on March 7 (see photos), and a week later our world was shut down.

During the pandemic, I wrote new stories, and I also connected with my agent extraordinaire, James McGowan, of BookEnds Literary Agency. (You can read that story here if you’d like.)

Soon after signing with him, James went on submission with one of my manuscripts, and it resulted in two different two-book deals, one with Chronicle (TOGETHER WE RIDE/TOGETHER WE SWIM) and one with Abrams (RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN!/BING, BOP, BAM: TIME TO JAM!). James has sold a total of seven picture books for me and three Scholastic Acorn early reader books. I am blessed and grateful to have experienced such an incredible publication journey! And I’m eager to explore and enjoy new projects and opportunities.


TOGETHER WE SWIM (illustrated by Kaylani Juanita) was written as part of a two-book deal with Chronicle Books. TOGETHER WE RIDE, the first book, showcases a father supporting and encouraging his daughter as she learns to ride a bike, and TOGETHER SWIM features the mother in the same family providing guidance and assurance as her son learns to swim. Though the young boy is at the center of the story, the whole family is enjoying the swimming experience together. The love and connection between this family is evident, especially when they share a group hug after their swim.

When Chronicle acquired TOGETHER WE RIDE, I knew that I’d need to write another book related to the first. Writing about swimming wasn’t my first choice, however. I wrote a book about ice skating but was told that activity was regional and wouldn’t have the same universal appeal as riding a bike – since not everyone lives in a cold climate where they can enjoy ice skating. So, I changed the story to be about roller skating. Fortunately, I didn’t have to change much to make it work, but it still didn’t meet Chronicle’s vision for the second book. I was told the illustrations would be too similar to TOGETHER WE RIDE.

My editor, Elizabeth Lazowski, told me that the publishing director at Chronicle suggested I write a book about swimming. I resisted at first because I wasn’t sure I wanted to write that story, but a friend said, “Valerie, just write the book. You know you can do it.” When I told my critique group about the swimming idea, one of my partners sent me typed pages of notes with her memories of learning how to swim; another sent me a video of her son who was just beginning swimming lessons. These resources provided inspiration as I drafted the story.

For TOGETHER WE RIDE, I challenged myself to write a book, using as few words as possible and sticking with the same end rhyme throughout the text. I met both challenges; the book contains 30 words, and – with the exception of one cheat – all of the ending words rhyme with “ride.” When I share that with people, I inform them that TOGETHER WE SWIM doesn’t adhere to those “requirements.” It’s 60 words, like my debut, LET’S DANCE!, and creating an end rhyme with “swim” wouldn’t work. I did consider the possibility though.

I want people to read TOGETHER WE SWIM because it celebrates an important milestone in a child’s life and exudes such joy. It also reminds us of the importance of an adult’s love and support in propelling a child towards success. Moreover, learning how to swim is an important life skill. It is actually a life-saving skill, especially for Black children who, according to the CDC, are more than seven times as likely to drown in a swimming pool than their white peers. Swimming is also a fun activity to engage in with family and friends throughout life. As people age and/or nurse injuries, it provides exercise that isn’t as taxing on the joints. In other words, children and adults of all ages can enjoy swimming!

The most exciting news about TOGETHER WE SWIM is that it was a 2023 Kirkus Prize Finalist in the Young Readers’ category! Six books were finalists in this category, and though the book didn’t win, I’m honored that TOGETHER WE SWIM received this distinction. And I had a fantastic time at the ceremony (see photo)!

Positive Impact of Amplify

The best part of Amplify was connecting with members of my cohort. I enjoyed seeing all the beautiful Black faces during our monthly virtual meetings in 2021. When we had the opportunity to meet each other on two separate occasions at Highlights in 2023, that was (no pun intended) a highlight for me!

I appreciated the sessions we had in 2021 and learned valuable information about marketing and how to advocate for oneself in the industry. The main purpose of the group, however, was to build community within our group and amplify and support each other, which is what happened and continues to occur.

For example, while at our September 2022 retreat, I received an offer on a picture book biography. I was excited, as you can imagine, and shared the news with our group. TeMika Grooms, a fellow Amplify member, expressed interest in illustrating the book. I remembered that when it was time to start the search for an illustrator. I passed TeMika’s name along to my editor, and guess what? She’s going to illustrate that book! If that’s not an Amplify success story, I don’t know what is!



Learn more about Valerie Bolling online:





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