Updated: Jun 17
Hello, friends! If you've been around for awhile, you know that I have partnered with my dear friend, Valerie Bolling in the past. We've hosted the KidLit Dance Parties along with Kaitlyn Sanchez and many of you attended those fun events. And if you are following me on Twitter, you've probably seen that Valerie and I cowrote a book, I SEE COLOR, slated for 2024, that we are very excited about.
But what you might not yet know is that Valerie is an extremely prolific writer. A couple years ago, she published Let's Dance and since then, she has sold 6 (!!) picture books PLUS an early reader set! Truly, Valerie is one talented author. And I am blessed to call her a dear friend.
This book is absolutely wonderful. I love the sparse text paired with the gorgeous illustrations. A story about a dad teaching his daughter to ride a bike, this book is perfect for Father's Day, so make sure to visit your local bookstore and grab a copy for one of the men in your life. But even beyond that, the book is perfect for any child and grown-up relationship. We'll talk more about that below! As a whole, it is a stunning look at the courage and confidence a child can gain with the support, encouragement, and love of the grown-ups by their sides.
I'm thrilled to introduce Valerie Bolling back to the blog today to talk all about her process and what it's been like to create Together We Ride.
Hi Valerie, and welcome! I'm so excited to talk about this great book. Can you tell us about what inspired Together We Ride?
During the COVID shutdown of spring 2020, my husband and I took daily “mental health walks” together. We noticed many children riding bikes in our neighborhood, which was the inspiration for TOGETHER WE RIDE. In particular, there was a five-year-old girl who had just learned to ride a bike. Her mother told me that all of the time they were spending at home had provided the opportunity for her to learn quickly. Since learning to ride a bike – without training wheels – is such an exciting milestone for children, I decided to write a story about that experience.
I love that so much! My oldest child learned how to ride a bike without training wheels during the early days of the pandemic, so that really resonates with me. I know you’ve mentioned before that this wasn’t originally a daddy-daughter story. How did your partnership with your editor and illustrator help get Together We Ride to this point?
You’re correct, Kailei, that when I wrote TOGETHER WE RIDE, originally titled BIKE RIDE, it wasn’t originally a daddy-daughter story. In fact, I didn’t write with gender in mind. I just knew there would be a child and a supportive adult. My editor, Elizabeth Lazowski, however, had a clear vision that she wanted this to be a father-daughter story. Here’s an excerpt from her offer letter: “What excited me most about BIKE RIDE wasn’t just the energetic, joyful, lyrical text, but the opportunity for the illustration to showcase a loving and positive relationship between a dad and a daughter. I’ve been thinking a lot about how picture books are a great place to combat the narrative of the ‘absentee dad’ in the Black community. I’ve been thinking a lot about projects like Sean William’s The Dad Gang, and I think this project is a beautiful, and loving way to continue those conversations.”
Oh that is so exciting. I love where this project landed. It's so fun to see multiple people come together to make a picture book. Now that it does specifically highlight the daddy/daughter relationship, I'd love to know... What has the reaction been from Dad readers? I’d love to specifically hear about any Black dads who have felt moved seeing themselves in your book.
Truthfully, I’ve mostly shared TOGETHER WE RIDE with young students (grades pre-K, K, and 1), and they’ve enjoyed it. There is one dad who shared his thoughts with me though. At my virtual launch celebration of the book, I was in conversation with my friend, Cornelius Minor (dad, educator, and author), and this is what he said about the book: "When I learned about this book, hearing about dads and daughters and bikes was exciting to me, but SEEING this book for the first time -- a BLACK dad and his daughter -- felt spiritual to me.” That’s certainly high praise, isn’t it? If someone has a spiritual experience as a result of reading a book I wrote, that certainly exceeds my expectations. I hope other fathers are touched by this book, too.
Oh I love that so much. I truly think this book will have that impact on many, many dads.
Do you have any fond memories with your own dad that you’d like to share with readers?
I actually never knew my father. I know there will be other children who read this book who may not have a relationship with their fathers either, but I believe they can still enjoy the book. Hopefully, they can connect with the experience of riding a bike and whatever adult is/was there supporting and cheering them on through the experience. Even if they don’t have a bike or are unable to ride one, I think they will be able to think of other things they enjoy with a special adult. I also hope they’ll remember times when they’ve tried something difficult, perhaps struggled a bit, and were overjoyed when they eventually succeeded.
That is so beautiful, Valerie. And you are so right! I love that this book is all about that special connection between child and grown-up, whoever that grown-up may be.
Can you tell us a bit about your own experience learning to ride a bike as a child?
That was so long ago, Kailei, so my memories aren’t strong. I do remember my mother teaching me how to ride, but not the details. What I do remember clearly is that I enjoyed riding my bike with my cousins, Ronnie and Randy. I also rode with kids in the neighborhood. It was such fun!
Love that memory! I don't have many memories of learning, but I do remember the first time my dad let go of the seat and let me fly. It was exhilarating and somewhat terrifying at the same time. There were surely stumbles, but my parents were always there to get me up again. And then the joy and freedom that riding a bike brings. Nothing like it.
Tell me, what do you hope readers will take away from Together We Ride?
I hope readers will take away whatever they need. For young readers, they may be inspired to learn how to ride a bike or to learn something else. I hope they’ll know that it’s OK to try and fail but that if they keep trying, they’ll succeed. I hope adult readers are reminded of that, too. I also want them to remember how important their support and encouragement is to a child’s success. And, of course, I want child and adult readers to experience joy and connection as they read and re-read this book.
Love that so much. I know that we have felt that as I've read the book with my kids. I truthfully haven't had my husband read it yet, because we're saving that as a Father's Day surprise ;)
And speaking of Father's Day Surprises, make sure to see below for a generous GIVEAWAY opportunity! But first, I have to thank Valerie for taking the time to join me and for her patience with me as I was in the middle of Covid when this feature was originally set to run. Valerie of course responded with grace, and I am truly grateful.
Readers, you don't want to miss your chance to grab this gorgeous book. A great addition to every home, school, and public library, please go get a copy of TOGETHER WE RIDE!
Valerie is generously offering one lucky reader a free copy of TOGETHER WE RIDE. To Enter:
Optional Bonus Entry: Comment below with a memory you had with a grown-up as a child, or one you are making now with a child.
Thank you, friends! Winner will be announced on Twitter June 23rd.