The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Soaring 20's Spring/Summer 2022 Releases

The Soaring 20’s High Flying Books for Kids and Teens! is a group of authors and illustrators hailing from California to New York (and Canada!), who’ve joined together to help promote their newly released books.


Be sure to visit their website to “discover picture book talent on the rise.” Their website includes “behind-the-scenes posts about how these books were made; resources for using these books in your classroom or library; places you can meet these talented authors and illustrators in person; and of course, GIVEAWAYS!”


Tell us a little about yourself. (For instance, where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)

Valerie Bolling – Together We Ride (Chronicle, 4/26/2022) - I have written all my life, Maria, but I started writing children’s books in Dec. 2016. My nieces were visiting, and I thought of an idea for a story in which each girl was the main character. After their visit, I wrote those stories.


I then decided to write other stories and investigate the possibility of having them published. Most of the books I’ve written are picture books, but I have an early reader series (Rainbow Days) coming out with Scholastic in 2023, and I’m currently working on a chapter book series.


I can write anywhere. At first, I used to write predominantly in my office, but, recently, I’ll write in different rooms in my house. On the deck, too, when the weather invites it.


Most of my writing occurs on the weekend since I have a full-time job as an educator (instructional coach). I preserve blocks of time (several hours) on Saturdays and Sundays and write most evenings for an hour or two as well. When I say “write,” I’m not only drafting or revising a story, I could be sending emails, planning for a workshop or my PB class, catching up on social media, updating my website, or responding to blogger interview questions … as I’m doing now.

Elisa Boxer – One Turtle’s Last Straw: The Real-Life Rescue That Sparked A Sea Change (Crown/Random House, 5/10/2022) and Splash: Ethelda Bleibtrey Makes Waves of Change (Sleeping Bear, 7/15/2022) – The only consistent thing about my writing process is the lack of anything consistent! Perfect example is this week: I have been trying to work on another picture book biography, but a fiction picture book keeps coming out instead! I’ve learned to pay attention to that, though, because some of my best writing has emerged while I have been in the process of working on something else.


I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. Interestingly, some of my more recent picture books incorporate themes of struggle, loss and grief, which showed up in my early childhood writings, as I was processing these things in my early life the only way I knew how: through words on a page.


As a journalist, I’ve been drawn to telling stories about barrier breakers and unsung heroes – themes that show up in some of my picture books as well. I want kids to read about ordinary people who followed their passions and ended up doing extraordinary things.


What is something no one (or few) knows about you?


Valerie Bolling – I used to perform in plays. In college, I played Evillene in The Wiz, which was such a fun role. After college, I performed in community theater for a number of years. Something that makes me a bit sad is that my husband has never seen me in a play because I’d stopped performing by the time we met. A number of my former students have seen me onstage, however, because they and their families came to see my shows. In a way, sharing my books with students is a bit like performing and just as energizing and soul-fulfilling.


Elisa Boxer – In 1997, when I was a reporter for the ABC news affiliate in Bangor, Maine, a Bangor resident named Stephen King happened to ask if I’d play a meteorologist in his upcoming TV movie.


He and his production crew came to our studio and spent a few days filming Storm of the Century, which includes a cameo by King himself, playing an attorney. I really didn’t know much about him at the time, and I am pretty squeamish when it comes to horror movies, but my colleagues assured me I did not want to say no to Stephen King. Here’s the trailer. I pop in at :31 seconds to forecast the Storm of the Century.


Interesting! Can't say I want to see the movie, but you both have such fascinating backgrounds. Now that we know more about you both, what inspired you to write your story?

Valerie Bolling – Together We Ride (4/26/2022) - All the children I saw riding bikes when taking my daily “mental health walks” with my husband during the COVID shutdown of spring 2020 provided inspiration for this story. In particular, there was a five-year-old girl who had just learned how 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. I decided to write a story about this exciting childhood milestone.

[Such an impressively short rhyming story. What a treasure for an illustrator.]

Elisa Boxer – One Turtle’s Last Straw: The Real-Life Rescue That Sparked A Sea Change (5/10/2022) – I’ve done a lot of environmental advocacy work, and I knew I wanted to write a children’s story about ocean pollution. So, I began searching the internet for something I could highlight in a picture book. When I came across the video of a sea turtle who nearly died from swallowing a plastic straw, and the marine biologists who saved his life, I knew I had found my topic!

[A stunningly illustrated, poignant wake-up call about the toll we exact on nature every day. And how we can all make a difference.]

Splash: Ethelda Bleibtrey Makes Waves of Change (7/15/2022) – I had just finished writing The Voice that Won the Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History. I so thoroughly enjoyed discovering the little-known story of the mom who saved suffrage, and bringing it to life for kids, that I set out to find another little-known woman who overcame significant obstacles and made history. When I turned up the story of Ethelda Bleibtrey, the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming, and found out she had taken up swimming to heal from polio, I felt that immediate YES!

[Awesome biography of an amazing woman who stood up for what she believed in and helped kids feel strong, too.]


Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?


Valerie Bolling – My favorite books as a child were Frog and Toad, Curious George, Amelia Bedelia, Charlotte’s Web, James and the Giant Peach, and The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, the Betsy, Tacy, and Tib series, and books by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. You’ll notice that none of these books are about BIPOC children or written by BIPOC authors. Thus, I’m committed to writing children’s books that feature underrepresented children; it’s my small attempt to promote a world where all children are seen and heard and valued and validated.


Elisa Boxer – I always loved reading biographies as a child, especially about trailblazing women. I think I devoured every book about Harriet Tubman, Hellen Keller and Amelia Earhart. I also loved picture books with strong emotional resonance and stories about people doing what nobody thought could be done. The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson is still one of my all-time favorites, with its delightfully simple message of: “Oh yeah? Watch me!”


Great examples of how what we read, or couldn't find, had a significant impact on who we are today. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book? Which is your favorite spread in the book?

Text © Valerie Bolling, 2022. Image © Kaylani Juanita, 2022.


Valerie Bolling – Together We Ride (4/26/2022) – I think readers might be interested to know that Together We Ride is only 30 words and that – with one exception – all of the lines have the same end rhyme. It’s hard to pick a favorite spread because Kaylani’s illustrations are so beautiful, but I’ll pick two. The first is when the main character rides successfully on her own, and the other is when the whole family rides together.


Elisa Boxer – One Turtle’s Last Straw: The Real-Life Rescue That Sparked A Sea Change (5/10/2022) – I’d love for readers to internalize that even though this is, on its surface, a book about ocean plastics, it’s really about the power of one tiny decision to ripple out into the world an make an enormous impact. So I hope kids feel empowered to make conscious choices in every area of their lives.

Text © Elisa Boxer, 2022. Image © Marta Alvarez Miguens, 2022.


As for favorite illustrations, oooh it’s hard to choose just one spread. Marta Alvarez Miguens so masterfully brought this story to life. But I think my favorite spread is the one near the end, where our turtle is swimming away, and the marine biologists who just saved his life are standing in silence, watching him go. There’s so much room for interpretation about what they might be thinking in those moments, and they didn’t even know yet just how huge an impact they had made on the world.

Text © Elisa Boxer, 2022. Image © Elizabeth Baddeley, 2022.


Splash: Ethelda Bleibtrey Makes Waves of Change (7/15/2022) – Here again, I am so in love with the way Elizabeth Baddeley brought the text to life on every page. It’s so tough to pick just one! But I think my favorite spread is the one at the end, where Ethelda is teaching young children with cerebral palsy and polio how to swim, and she hearkens back to her own childhood, when swimming set her body free. It’s such a full-circle moment and Elizabeth’s art so beautifully and powerfully captures that emotion.


If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?


Valerie Bolling – I’m probably not responding to this question in the way you intended, Maria, but here’s what I wish for most. I would love to have my deceased loved ones be able to celebrate my publication success with me. With the exception of my mother, the people who raised me have passed away: my great-grandparents, grandmother, and great-aunts. If I could reconnect with them in the land of the living, even for one day, to share my publication story and the books I’ve written, that would bring me more joy than I could imagine.


Elisa Boxer – I would hug both of my grandmothers. They’re no longer here, but they both encouraged my writing from an early age, and they were both such powerful sources of unconditional love.


That is perfect Valerie! And it is amazing that without seeing each other's answers, you chose the same wish. What was the hardest or most challenging part about writing your book? (such as maybe research, rhyme, word count, a particular portion….)


Valerie Bolling – Together We Ride (4/26/2022) - Whenever writing in rhyme, the main objective is to get the rhyme right. The added challenge of this book, which was also fun for me, was making sure each line had the same end rhyme.


Elisa Boxer – One Turtle’s Last Straw: The Real-Life Rescue That Sparked A Sea Change (5/10/2022) – The most challenging part of this book for me was narrowing down the backmatter section about various kids taking action to tackle the plastics pollution problem. There are so many young people around the globe, creating such amazing change in their communities! Highlighting these kids and their accomplishments was one of my favorite parts of creating this book, but it was so hard to not be able to include more of them!


Splash: Ethelda Bleibtrey Makes Waves of Change (7/15/2022) – There hasn’t been a whole lot written about Ethelda Bleibtrey, so that was the biggest challenge I ran into with this book. And the sources that do exist have information that is somewhat conflicting. On the other hand, that’s what helped me realize I wanted to write a picture book about her and share her story!


I'm so glad you both worked through these challenges and created your amazing books. Describe one thing you’ve learned from your journey, so far.


Valerie Bolling – I’ve learned to enjoy the journey and to be grateful for even the small successes. Most of all, Maria, I’ve learned that there’s always so much more to learn. I learn new ways to promote my books, new genres to write, and I learn from those I meet in the kidlit community who share their experiences.


Elisa Boxer – Being in this launch/marketing/promotion phase, it can be easy to lose sight of the big WHY of the writing. But three books in, one thing I’ve learned is just how crucial it is to keep coming back to that big WHY – the reason I created these books in the first place. I want young readers to feel inspired, to believe in themselves, to know their voices matter, and to realize the power of their choices to help change the world.


Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Valerie Bolling – My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Yellowstone when we traveled there 10 years ago. The park I frequent most is Mianus River Park, which is a three-minute drive from my house. There are many wonderful trails, and it’s beautiful in all seasons. In the summer, the trees provide a respite on the hottest days.

What are your favorite parks, Maria? Valerie, you're the first to ask me. I love so many parks. Though, I think today I'm most drawn to Waimea Canyon in Kaui, Hawaii. I think I really need a beach vacation! I was just magical.

Elisa Boxer – Kettle Cove State Park in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. It’s a glorious slice of coastline, with rocky cliffs, sand, bridges, trails and woods. I grew up going there with my parents, and I’ve taken my son there ever since he was little. Thankfully, we only live fifteen minutes away now. We just had his senior pictures taken there! No matter how many times I get out of the car, take in the scenery and breathe in the sea air, I am always astounded at the magnificence of nature in this spot.


Thank you both for giving us a little peek into you and your books. Wishing you both great success.


Thank you so much, Maria!


To learn more about Valerie & Elisa, and other writers and illustrators, visit Soaring 20’s High Flying Books for Kids & Teens @ https://www.soaring20spb.com/.

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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