Valerie Bolling has done it again. In the two years since publishing her first children’s book, Let’s Dance!, a celebration of dances from around the world and the diverse children who enjoy them, plans for eight books have followed!
Later this month, Bolling’s new book, Together We Ride, will be published.
It all started when Bolling, a 29 year educator in Greenwich Schools, published Let’s Dance! in March 2020. Three months later she signed with an agent.
Since then Bolling, who serves Greenwich’s three middle schools as an instructional coach in all subjects, has been on a roll.
While Let’s Dance! was inspired by her young nieces, Together We Ride was inspired by all the children who took to riding bicycles during the Covid shut down.
Bolling said during the pandemic she and her husband would take a walk at the end of their remote workdays. Their route included a circular road where they would regularly see one particular girl, who was about four at the time, learning to ride her bike.
“We watched her progression,” Bolling recalled. “And, of course, I remember when I learned how to ride a bike. I got to thinking, it’s such a milestone for a child and something kids really look forward to.”
“I like to write about things kids do and enjoy, and are universal and timeless,” she added.
And while Let’s Dance! was a rhyming picture book with just 60 words, Together We Ride, which also rhymes, has half as many words.
“It was fun to see if I could tell a complete story with a few words,” she explained.
Initially called Bike Ride, it was re-titled Together We Ride. The book wound up going to auction, resulting in her ending up with additional book deals.
In October Ride, Roll Run: Time For Fun! will be published.
Sequels to be published in 2023 include Bing, Bop, Bam: Time to Jam! and Together We Swim. Also, Bolling’s reader series Rainbow Days comes out next year via Scholastic in a three-book series.
“We’ve also sold a book for 2024, but it hasn’t been announced yet,” she added. “It’s a co-authored non fiction book.”
Recently, Heather Dawes, a project specialist from the State Education Resource Center, (SERC) traveled from Middletown to Eastern Middle School to present Ms Bolling with the 2022 George A. Coleman Excellence in Equity Award. SERC is a quasi-public agency created to assist the State Board of Education in promoting educational equity and excellence.
“I am very pleased to have been a recipient of the award because the idea is that schools should be equitable places,” Bolling explained. “Sometimes people think of equity as race, which is part of it. But equity is also about considering students who have physical or mental challenges. And it is about students who are LGBTQIA+. We want to make sure that everyone feels welcome in a school building.”
“Making sure that everyone feels welcome doesn’t mean making others feeling excluded or unwelcome,” Bolling said.”It truly means everyone, whether you are of the dominant culture or you’re from a marginalized group, you should still feel accepted, welcome and included.”
The George A. Coleman award culminates in SERC’s event on dismantling systemic racism, where Bolling will be honored with two other advocates with their awards dedicated to equity in education.
The event, “Dismantling Systemic Racism: 2022 Conference on Race, Education & Success” will be held virtually on May 6.
According to SERC, Bolling’s articles and children’s books give voice to underrepresented and marginalized children, while she has worked to ensure equity, inclusion, and access in Greenwich Public Schools. In summer 2020 she coached fellow educators on navigating difficult conversations with students following the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and has mentored and facilitated such challenging discussions with students herself.
Bolling said that in her work as a children’s book author, the goal of equity is similar.
“I want children to feel at home in a book and I want children to feel seen and heard, valued and validated,” she said, pointing to Together We Ride, which features a Black father and daughter on the cover.
“For Black children to be able to pick it up and say, ‘That looks like me,’ or, ‘My dad is great,’ but children who are not Black can pick it up and say, ‘I like riding a bike,’ or ‘I have a dad,’ or, ‘I wish I spent more time with my dad.’ Whatever the case, there is a connection.”
The story is about riding a bike, but moreover, Bolling said it’s a story about achieving a goal, learning something new, and a girl who has a stumble. It’s about how she recovers and what people do when they’re met with a tough moment.
Similarly, Let’s Dance! has a theme of equity, because while it celebrates dances from around the world and the diverse children who enjoy them, there are pictures of children in the book who aren’t often seen in books.
“For instance there is a boy who is blind, someone in a wheelchair, girls from India, Chinese long sleeve dancers, but also Irish step dancers and country line dancers,” Bolling said. “Again, everyone is included. On the ballet page there is a girl in a hijab, a Black dancer, and a child whose gender is indiscernible. They’re enjoying dancing, and they’re all feeling included. That is what equity is.”
Lastly, on the topic of equity in schools, Bolling said it applies to students’ learning needs.
“Different students need different things. It’s about giving students choice and voice that honors their equity. It is having students create their own learning goals. Also, for students who are struggling, it’s about giving them what they need, and also accelerating students who need something more,” Bolling added.
“Shooting to the middle is not equity,” she said. “It’s figuring out what to do so students all perform at their highest level.”
More good news: Together We Ride received a starred review from The Horn Book this month.
Upcoming events to celebrate Together We Ride include a virtual event on April 27 at 8:00pm PST Multicultural Bookstore and Gifts in Richmond, CA (scroll down this page to see event description) Register here.
Then, on May 14 there will be a “Dance, Ride, and Roll” book launch party in New Canaan’s Waveny Park (outside Lapham Community Center) from 2:00-4:00pm.
This event will feature outdoor games, an impromptu dance party, a book reading, crafts and more. For more information, or to register, click here.