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.
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!