Hi Valerie, I’m so excited to talk with you about your new book, Ride, Roll, Run: Time for Fun! published by Abrams.
VB: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Kirstie. I’m happy to tell you and readers about my newest book.
KM: How did the idea for this book come about?
VB: I was thinking about the games that children enjoy playing outside with their friends, many of which I loved as a child. There’s no need for expensive equipment or electronics. Friends + imagination = a fantastic time!
KM: The cover grabs your attention immediately. It’s colorful and features a diverse group of children. What were your thoughts when you saw the cover and inside images for the first time?
VB: From the initial sketches, I loved Sabrena Khadija’s illustrations. They have a unique style that’s so appealing. The vibrant colors and energy that their art conveys are perfect for a book about children having fun together.
KM: The children in the book engage in various forms of riding, rolling, and running. Will you tell us about a few of the activities featured in your book?
VB: Yes, Kirstie, the children in this book are riding on bikes, rolling on skateboards, and running on a basketball court. They’re also jumping rope, playing hopscotch, and making art on a sidewalk. These are few of the activities highlighted in the book.
KM: Your book is an easy-read in rhyme, but for many authors, writing in rhyme is difficult and hard to sell, yet you make it look effortless. Tell us about your writing process and how you get those perfectly rhyming words to flow.
VB: Thanks for saying I’m able to get “perfectly rhyming words to flow.” I enjoy writing in rhyme, and I think part of my success is because I use few words. That allows me to keep my rhyme and meter tight. If I were writing longer sentences that rhymed, it would certainly be more challenging.
As for my process, I get the words down on the page. Fortunately, most of the rhymes flow easily, but I do use rhymezone.com as a tool when I’m struggling with a rhyme or want to explore other options.
KM: What do you hope children will take away from your book?
VB: Children should play! So, after reading Ride, Roll, Run: Time for Fun!, I hope young readers will go outside and play with their friends. I wouldn’t even care if, in the midst of reading the book, they said, “I want to play now!” and decided to head outdoors and finish reading the book later.
KM: There are so many outstanding books coming out this fall, including your own. Will you share with us any children’s books you’re looking forward to adding to your collection?
VB: Kirstie, I’m looking forward to books by our fellow KidLit in Color members, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (Hold Them Close), Tameka Fryer Brown (Twelve Dinging Doorbells and Not Done Yet: Shirley Chisholm’s Fight for Change), and Aya Khalil (Our World: Eqypt).
Valerie Bolling is the author of the 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite award-winning and CT Book Award finalist, Let's Dance!, and has been an educator for almost 30 years. When she taught elementary students, it was difficult to find diverse literature for them. Thus, she is passionate about creating stories in which all children can see themselves and feel seen and heard and valued and validated. Valerie has two books scheduled for release in 2022 (Together We Ride/Chronicle and Ride, Roll, Run: Time for Fun!/Abrams) and two more slated for 2023 (Together We Swim/Chronicle and Neighborhood Jam/Abrams).
A graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University, Teachers College, Valerie currently works as an Instructional Coach.
Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut and enjoy traveling, hiking, reading, going to the theater, and dancing.
You can learn more about Valerie at http://valeriebolling.com
Author Visit Information
Interview with Allysun Atwater about I Am Thinking My Life
By Rashmi Bismark
RB: Hi Allysun! Congratulations on your gorgeous debut picture book, I Am Thinking My Life, illustrated by Stevie Lewis and published by Bala Kids, an imprint of Shambhala Publications. As a mindfulness + yoga facilitator and mom, there is so much I absolutely love about this story. It’s empowering and life-affirming. It so beautifully depicts the power of intention, thought, mindfulness, and action through the heart of a child. Tell us some of your inspirations behind creating a story like this.
AA: Sometimes I just get the tiniest spark of an idea - usually just an idea for the title of a story. Then I start writing and a story takes shape almost fully formed. When this happens, I often don’t know what I’m creating or really where it comes from. It just arrives, and suddenly it seems like it’s been there all along. This was the case with I Am Thinking My Life. However, I can think of a couple of concrete moments of inspiration for the book, retrospectively. One is that my daughters attended a play-based school called Bing Nursery School on Stanford’s campus, when I was in law school. The thing I loved most about Bing was that it was this beautiful indoor and outdoor wonderland for children with a cornucopia of elaborate opportunities for activities. Bing gave children the agency to choose how they could spend much of their time each day. I appreciated how empowering that was in an age when children are so scheduled and helicoptered. It had such a strong impact on both of my daughters who have always been very introspective and creative. Once I Am Thinking My Life was born, I fell in love with the idea that it featured a character who had that power to choose how she would actively engage herself, and also to marvel at the joy of having that freedom to think and dream.
The other inspiration is my observations of all of the life-building and creative energy that goes on around us. People are constantly “thinking their lives” in really unique and compelling ways, and I feel more positive in my own mindset just from experiencing and witnessing other people’s thoughts manifesting as all kinds of amazing creations.
RB: Stevie Lewis’ art is stunning! Through your beautiful words, we learn about the power of being with and envisioning one’s life. Through Stevie’s artwork, we also learn so much about the main character’s personality, her family, and her dreams for herself. What influenced some of the artistic choices? Were you able to have input on how the art was telling the story as well?
AA: I agree. Stevie’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous. I feel fortunate to have been able to contribute many of the ideas for the artwork. I actually wrote extensive art notes detailing the plot and narrative structure of the illustrations. Stevie based the majority of the book’s illustrations on them. Of course, she added her own interpretation to the illustrations. The characters’ appearances are all her creation, and I was delighted to see that the main character and her mother had locs, because we definitely need to see that representation in picture books.
What I was hoping for was just to see our main character in the excitement and, sometimes frenzy, of discovery regarding the power of her thoughts. There is some experimentation, and some amazing introspection happening. I wanted to see the character experiencing that realization not only for herself, but for the way it positively affects her family and friends, and the way it impacts her future.
I also wanted to work in the realization that no matter how positive our thoughts are, there will be storms, whether those are moods or events that create a negative experience. Sometimes we have to ride those negative emotions out, and experience them for what they are. But the goal should be to get back to a place of positivity when that becomes possible, even if it takes some time and effort to access that inner light and those inner resources again.
RB: I love that reminder that even through the storms, we can search within and uncover illumination. Can you share with our readers, what are some ways you nourish yourself in stormy times?
AA: That’s such an insightful question. I went through quite a few stormy times before I wrote this book. From having to reroute my career due to illness, to losing my baby brother – my only sibling, the summer before I wrote my first draft of this book, I had what felt like some monsoons happening in my life. But storms are a part of life, and they have their own humbling beauty. I have been fortunate to be surrounded by a loving family and amazing friends. Spending time with them is definitely one of the main ways I nourish myself in stormy times. Also, I love story. And, fortunately for me, story is everywhere— in poetry, in picture books, in songs, in paintings, in television shows and in movies. I love to get absorbed in a transporting story, whatever the medium. I love a gorgeous sunset too. I try to watch the sunset every evening that isn’t too overcast. Nature can really put life’s metaphorical storms into perspective, and soothe and help heal us. I also try to meditate often. And, of course, there is writing, which is an amazing, cathartic outlet for those of us who want to unleash its power.
RB: The book closes with a heartfelt letter from you and a wish for dreams, hopes, and continued belief in ourselves. What are some of your dreams and hopes as you now enter the field of children’s literature? What thoughts are you currently thinking for your life?
AA: This is another lovely question. I absolutely hope to continue writing books and, hopefully, reach the readers that need my words and stories the most. I think every writer would love to write an award-winning bestseller and experience phenomenal success, and I won’t claim that I’m any different. I love to dream big!
I think the most important thing, though, is to answer the call of creativity and share my creations with the world. I’m a bit of a recluse, and I have a tendency to want to hide my talents away, but writing this first book has forced me to set some of those tendencies aside and bring myself out into the open. And it has come with some beautiful rewards. Readers that have read I Am Thinking My Life have started reaching out to me in meaningful ways, telling me how much this book has meant to them, and sending me pictures of their darling children with the book, and I can’t even begin to describe how much that means to me.
Also, to go to a Barnes & Noble, a library, or an independent bookstore and see my book on the shelf is probably always going to be a pinch me moment for me – especially in light of the reverence I’ve always had for bookstores and libraries. So that is already a beautiful dream realized. Now, “I am thinking my life” as a (someday) seasoned author, and hoping for more opportunities to continue to engage in this inspirational work.
RB: Thank you, Allysun, for joining us on the KidLit in Color Blog! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
AA: Thank you so much for inviting me, Rashmi! This has been an amazing honor. I wish you and the rest of the Kidlit in Color authors all the best!
Allysun Atwater is the author of I Am Thinking My Life, illustrated by Stevie Lewis and published by Bala Kids. She is an educator, and non-practicing attorney. Allysun grew up in Odessa, Texas where she was a quintessential 80s latchkey kid and an avid reader with an insatiable love of the library. Allysun is a graduate of Southern Methodist University (SMU) with a bachelor’s degree in English, Stanford Law School with a juris doctorate, and Stanford University with a master’s degree in education. Allysun lives in the Houston area with her husband, twin daughters, her mother, her nephew and two spirited Shih Tzus.
Aya Khalil: Thanks for letting me interview you for Kidlit in Color. I read your beautiful upcoming picture book, The Moon from Dehradun, illustrated beautifully by Tarun Lak, and was completely blown away. This picture book is loosely based on your own family's story from the partition 75 years ago. Can you briefly explain this more to our readers?
Sharon Shamsi: THE MOON FROM DEHRADUN was inspired by my mother’s personal experience of the Partition of 1947, when my grandparents – and 15 million people – were forced to flee their homes in what is known to be history’s largest forced migration.
AK: Why did you write this picture book and when did you start writing it?
SS: I wanted to write this story for my children, for them to know their family’s history. I realized there was not much information about such an important historic event. After thinking about it for many years, knowing how important it was to share this story with all children, I finally began writing it around 7 years ago.
AK: Seven years ago, wow! Tarun's illustrations are incredible. What did you do when you first saw sketches and then the final illustrations? Any favorite spread?
SS: I was blown away by Tarun’s illustrations. When I first saw them I burst into tears. I was so overcome by emotion, at seeing my words brought to life by such beautiful illustrations. It was an overwhelming moment, and I am so grateful to Tarun for reaching out to me, to ask details about my grandparents. I absolutely love the cover illustration – it simply takes my breath away!
AK: They are truly incredible. What do you hope readers learn after reading your beautiful new picture book?
SS: I hope readers learn about this particular period of history and become curious to know about their own family history. It can be very empowering.
AK: I learned a lot! Your other picture book, Zahra's Blessing, featured a stuffed animal. Was it coincidental that both picture books had dolls/stuffed animals or is there a reason?
SS: It was totally coincidental. I wrote them both at different times, and it just so happened that they were released in the same year. The reason for having a doll or a teddy bear, is that most children have a toy they are attached to, and perhaps it makes the story more relatable.
AK: I love that. This topic is obviously serious and may be a bit scary for young readers, but you did such an amazing job making it kid-friendly. Do you have any tips for authors or writers who write about serious/scary subjects for children?
SS: I try to put myself in a child’s shoes. I dig deep into my own memories to gather the emotions I felt as a child. So my only advice would be to try and remember your own childhood, in order to convey the emotion authentically.
AK: Beautiful advice. Where can our readers find you and purchase your books?
SS: My books are available wherever children’s books are sold. You may purchase directly from Simon and Schuster through the link below:
THE MOON FROM DEHRADUN (Atheneum, Fall 2022) Illustrator, Tarun Lak
Learn more about Sharon here: