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.

Today, I am thrilled to be talking with Valerie about her most recent picture book, Together We Ride. Illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

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:

1. Follow Valerie on Twitter or Instagram

2. Retweet THIS Tweet

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.

Hello, friends! Nothing like sneaking this feature in on the last day of the month, huh?? My apologies. Life has been a lot. But believe me, this interview was worth the wait! Because Jen is super awesome and you are in for a real treat! So join me in welcoming Jen de Oliveria to the blog today!!

Hi Jen, welcome! Let's jump right in. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your writing journey?

My name is Jen de Oliveira (pronounced: olive-AIR-uh). I’m a writer, cartoonist, and elementary school teacher from California. Ever since I could hold a crayon, I wanted to be an artist. Through the encouragement of my family and teachers, I studied animation and illustration in college, with the goal of becoming a story artist in animation. After I became a teacher, I fell in love again with children’s books. Just for fun, I started my own comic strip about a spunky kid penguin (REGGIE); and now I’m very lucky to be making two early reader graphic novels about him!

Wow! That is such a cool story! I love that you've had this passion for your whole life. And how cool that your comic is becoming an early reader graphic novel. That's super exciting. So what inspired this debut book?

REGGIE is inspired by so many things! The humor and expressiveness of Reggie himself is influenced by animated cartoons, which had a huge impact on me as a kid. The REGGIE books are a collection of short, fun, everyday adventures, which is a bit similar to the AKISSI stories by Marguerite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin about a lively, mischievous little girl in Ivory Coast. And, of course, my elementary school students have inspired Reggie and his antics. I think sometimes we forget that children also are complex and have a range of emotions, which is something I strive to convey in the REGGIE comics and books.

Oh my goodness, I love him!. Reggie really is so much fun. Given all of that, what message would you like for your readers to walk away with?

I hope that all readers, regardless of age, tap into the sweetness and silliness of childhood. For my kid readers, I hope reading REGGIE will make them laugh and understand that even “small” stories are worth telling. And maybe it will spark some kids to write stories or design characters of their own. That would be a huge honor, to play a little role in their creativity.

I think you definitely will spark that creativity. I know that my kiddos LOVE graphic novels. Something about the art form really reaches kids.

Lately, we’ve seen an increase in graphic novels for kids – particularly middle grade and younger readers. I want to thank all the grownups (teachers, librarians, parents) who are encouraging kids to read comics. It sends the message that comics are real books, and that all books matter, especially if they foster a love of reading.

So, so true, Jen. And I'm super excited to get my own copy of REGGIE... When does your debut hit shelves?

REGGIE will be released in Summer 2023 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, with a second book coming out the following year. I hope readers will enjoy his antics!

I seriously am SO excited to get to know him. This has been a blast. Before I let you go, where can we follow you online?

You can read the Reggie comic strips (of which there are more than 100!) online at

Social media-wise, I’m on Instagram and Twitter at @jendeoart

And, if you sign up for Sunday Haha (, you can receive free comic strips for kids every week in your inbox! (I’m the co-editor of Sunday Haha, along with illustrator/cartoonist Mika Song.)

Wow! How fun. I'm definitely headed over right now to sign up. My kids would LOVE that!

And speaking of things my kids would love...

Jen is offering a super amazing GIVEAWAY!

One lucky reader will receive a collection of Reggie comic strip zines and an interactive comic-making workbook.

Seriously, what kid won't want to make their own comics??

To Enter:

  1. Follow Jen on Twitter

  2. Follow PB23Bunch on Twitter

  3. Retweet THIS tweet

For bonus entries:

  1. Comment on this blog post below.

  2. Tag two friends in the tweet above.

About Jen de Oliveira

Jen is a writer, cartoonist, and elementary school teacher from the Bay Area, California. She is also the co-creator of Sunday Haha, a free weekly comics newsletter for kids. REGGIE, the first in a series of early reader graphic novels,

will be published in Summer 2023 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

About PB23Bunch

The PB23Bunch is a diverse group of 12 authors and illustrators with Picture Books debuting in 2023. We cannot wait to get our books in your hands!!

Hello, friends! I hope you're all enjoying the beginnings of summer. I personally adore summer. I love having my kids home from school, fun days by the pool, and lots of time to read!

Today, I am BEYOND thrilled to announce that I've partnered with Ebony Lynn Mudd to launch the Rising Stars Picture Book Mentorship!! This program will be unlike any other PB mentorship, so I hope you'll read all about the process of creating this opportunity and why we're doing what we're doing.

As I listened to the excited buzz surrounding the PBChat Mentorship, Justin Colón's amazing program that has consistently led to book deals, offers of rep, and more, I thought how much I'd love to someday be a mentor in that program... but even with multiple book deals under my belt, I didn't think I'd ever feel "qualified" to mentor at that level. But PBChat was instrumental in my own journey...I was chosen as Bridget Heos's runner up in 2020, and gifted a phone call where Bridget told me my books were ready! It was a HUGE turning point for me. And since then, I've wanted to give back.

Still... the imposter syndrome is real. So I started thinking that it would be great to do some sort of low-stakes mentorship. Something where the person I mentored realized that I was new to mentoring and would be learning the ropes myself. But also something valuable and worthwhile. Something that would help me develop mentoring skills while also providing a meaningful and educational experience for a mentee. Something that would prepare me to mentor in more "official" mentorships in the future.

So I did what I tend to do when these types of ideas pop into my head... I put it out into the universe on Twitter:

And I was beyond humbled by the response! People were so kind and I was blown away by how many people would actually be interested in something like that. And even more exciting? Fellow agented authors with their own upcoming debuts chimed in that they had been wanting to do something similar! How cool would that be?

Ebony Lynn Mudd was one of those authors who chimed in. She and I had connected in the past, so I reached out and asked if she would be interested in partnering with me to make this kernel of an idea into something more official. And I will be forever grateful that she enthusiastically agreed! And not only did she agree, she hit the ground running! She has done SO MUCH to get this mentorship off the ground, and you all are going to be blown away by her. She is a force and I adore her!

Anyways... Ebony and I started gathering mentors.

We knew that we wanted mentors to be agented with book deals. Because we wanted this to be about more than giving critiques. We want mentors who can help mentees navigate things like agent calls, offers of publication, contract language, and more. And let me tell you, the kidlit community showed up! We have the MOST AMAZING mentors lined up, and cannot wait to reveal them!

The idea behind this mentorship is that we want to create a program where new mentors can come and be tutored. Where we will invite experienced authors and mentors to come and teach us how to be the mentors of tomorrow. And where we will get "on the job training" so to speak... learning by doing. So we will each take on one mentee, help them polish and prepare manuscripts for querying, and provide guidance on the industry. Mentees will understand that we are all new at this and learning as we go. This will be a low-stakes mentorship, with no agent/editor showcase at the end. But we do guarantee experienced mentors who will be with you each step of the way. And we do expect mentees to be serious, dedicated to their craft, and willing to work hard to get their manuscripts ready for querying and submission.

So what will this look like?

Well, everything will be happening over on so we hope you will hop on over there to subscribe and follow along.

Then, tomorrow, Saturday the 21st, Ebony and I will start releasing teasers about the mentors. You can follow us on Twitter (@ebonylynnmudd and @Pew Kailei) and make your guesses on each of the mentor teasers.

Then on June 1st, we will reveal the complete mentor list, including what they are looking for in a mentee.

Applications will open on Monday, June 6th and close at midnight on Saturday, June 11th (please see for the eligibility requirements to apply, or scroll to the bottom of this post to see the requirements).

Applicants can apply to up to two mentors.

Mentors will spend 3 weeks reviewing applicants, and may ask for additional manuscripts or even a phone call to help make their decision.

Mentees will be revealed on July 1st and the mentorship will begin officially on July 5th and run through September 30th.

In the meantime... please help us spread the word by using #PBRisingStars on Twitter!

We seriously cannot wait to see how this develops and all the good that comes from it! We hope you will join us for this amazing ride and consider applying to the Rising Stars PB Mentorship! We're so grateful to those of you who have already expressed support and excitement, and even helped us to choose a logo (designed by the amazing Ebony!) through our Twitter poll. We truly think this is going to be a wonderful experience, both for mentors learning the ropes and mentees developing their craft. Thanks for joining us on the ride!


Rising Stars PB Mentorship Eligibility Requirements:

The ideal applicant is serious about their craft, and actively working toward traditional publication. This includes, but is not limited to, participation in active critique groups, participation in webinars, workshops, or classes, and participation in the kidlit community. They have multiple completed picture book manuscripts or dummies.

We especially encourage creators from traditionally marginalized backgrounds to apply.

Applicants may apply to up to two mentors. Applying to more mentors will result in disqualification. Kailei and Ebony reserve the right to read all applications and prescreen applications for any mentors.

Applicants must:

  1. Be currently unagented

  2. Not have been mentored as part of another picture book mentorship within the last year.

  3. Be willing to not query during the duration of the mentorship

  4. Not have been traditionally published with a picture book (Note: if you have self-published in the past, you are still eligible to apply if you are now working toward traditional publication).

  5. Fill out the online application, including an MS or Dummy upload between June 6th and June 11th. (Note: For any neurodivergent or disabled applicants who are unable to complete the full application, please reach out to Kailei or Ebony. We will happily create an inclusive opportunity for you to still apply).

If chosen, mentees will be expected to:

  1. Participate in the full mentorship, running from July 5th through September 30th.

  2. Communicate with their mentor following an established plan agreed upon by both mentor and mentee.

  3. Edit and revise at least one PB MS or Dummy over the course of the mentorship, as agreed upon by both mentor and mentee.

  4. Pause (or wait on) querying for the duration of the mentorship, unless a unique opportunity arises, agreed upon by both mentor and mentee.

  5. Attend the virtual mentee orientation on July 5th or watch the replay within the first week of the mentorship.

Each mentor will choose their own mentee. Both mentor and mentee will have access to either Kailei or Ebony for check ins and can reach out for additional support as needed.