Monday, September 18, 2023

An Interview with Author Rachel S. Hobbs

I've always loved a good fractured fairy tale -- a retelling of a classic fairy tale but with a unique twist in one or more elements of the original story. I'm so happy to have author Rachel S. Hobbs here with us today to talk about her debut picture book, a fractured fairy tale Tango Red Riding Hood, illustrated by Carolina Vázquez and just released by Gnome Road Publishing. 

In this fresh, bilingual take on Little Red Riding Hood, a young tango-loving Argentine girl name Moni sets out to deliver some scrumptious alfajores to her Abuela. As she dances through the forest, she encounters a wolf playing tango music on his bandoneón! It might seem like the perfect pairing of two characters passionate about the tango, but hilarity soon ensues once Moni and the wolf start communicating (or trying to communicate) through speech instead of music and dance. 

A blend of two cultures (as 
Rachel was born to a Californian father and Argentine mother), this book would be great
 for English or Spanish learners, or for anyone who just wants to read a fun story with an Argentine twist!

GIVEAWAY ALERT!! Stick around after the interview for a chance to win a crocheted rose (inspired by a scene in the book) and a 20-minute ask-me-anything phone call or Zoom with Rachel! 

So happy to have you here with us today, Rachel! And congratulations on your debut picture book! 

Thank you so much for having me! I feel honored, and I'm excited to share my thoughts with a dance-minded community!

How are you feeling? Have you been doing anything special to celebrate?

I love food, so that's how I've been celebrating! We made some Argentine food recently, and I also plan on making alfajores (the treat mentioned in the book) for my author visits. Don't get me wrong, though. I don't enjoy cooking or baking, but I really wanted to share something I love with others!

As for how I'm feeling, that's a tricky question to answer! I'm extremely grateful that people can have this personal piece of me in their hands to enjoy what I enjoy. I'm so happy when friends show me photos of themselves holding my book. I'm also really anxious, but that's part of my mental health issues. My adrenaline has been really high. I've learning a lot about self-soothing and self-compassion, so I think that will get me back on track!

Yes, self-soothing and self-compassion are so important, and I hope you feel more balanced soon. I also struggle with self-soothing when I am anxious or overwhelmed, and have found that meditation and LOTS of alone time are so helpful, at least for me. Oh, and so is dance!

Speaking of dance, how did you come up with the idea for this tango-themed story?

That's a great question! I was listening to a lot of audiobooks at the time, and I was listening to the last book of Stephanie Garber's Caraval series (young adult). If I remember correctly, the main character was going to a ball, and just as she started dancing with someone, I found myself wishing it was tango. It wasn't! But that made me reflect on my love of tango, and how I grew up with it as part of my culture, but my peers didn't. I wished for a way I could introduce it to kids, and I immediately started coming up with the verses Moni sings in the book, to the tune of "El Choclo."

So dance was really the impetus for writing this book! I originally used more dance words to convey how Moni was moving through the forest. I wanted to show that dancing was always on her mind. Those words didn't make revisions, but I still used words like twirled, whirled, swayed, and of course, tango-specific words, along with actual tango dance steps!

I love the color palette and expressive faces of all the characters in this book. What was it like having Carolina Vázquez as the illustrator? 

I feel like the luckiest person alive that she was the illustrator! Her palette in the book is vibrant and bold, which is absolutely reflective of tango itself. I think the faces are as expressive as the dance! She added such amazing Argentine-specific touches to the illustrations that I didn't imagine, like the half-hood-half poncho, the other Argentine snacks and drinks, and the mixture of a North American and South American wolf. She is so brilliant and talented!

As a debut picture book author, was there anything that surprised you about the publication process?

I have learned so much through the years from SCBWI conferences, books, and classes, so not a lot surprised me, except that I couldn't have dreamed that someone else (the publisher/editor) could envision what I envisioned and loved it the way I had hoped. Finding someone who really understands your manuscript is a more beautiful experience than I had dreamed of. It's hard to get rejections, but those aren't the people you would want to work with on your manuscript. It is worth it to find "the one."

So happy that you found "the one" to share your vision for this amazingly multi-layered book. What are you hoping young readers will take away from it? And what are you working on next?

I'm hoping young readers will learn a new dance and new music. I'm also hoping they will see how they, too, can infuse their culture into new or familiar stories. And I also want them to know that when you learn a new language it's normal to make mistakes! I have made language mistakes -- both using a Spanish word that I didn't understand was Spanish in talking to English-only friends (realizing I said "the wrong thing") and confusing two Spanish words when I was telling someone a recipe, which would have made a non-edible food! It's something I can laugh about now, and I hope that people will accept that mistakes will happen and that it will be ok. That's how we learn!

As for what I'm working on...another way of sharing my culture! It involves food and it may or may not be a retelling...

Thanks again for having me -- this was fun! Now let's dance.

Thank YOU for being here, Rachel, and for offering a very generous giveaway. And yes, let's dance. As Abuela says in Tango Red Riding Hood, "Magical things happen when you dance!"  

GIVEAWAY TIME!! Leave a comment for a chance to win a 20-minute ask-me-anything session with Rachel, plus this BEAUTIFUL rose she crocheted just for you (pattern by @kati.crafts). And don't forget to leave an email address or social media handle so we can reach you if you win. The giveaway will close on Thursday, September 28th, at 11:59 pm EST. Best of luck!

Sunday, July 16, 2023

This Is Rhythm! This Is Tap!

I was three or four years old when I put on my first pair of tap shoes, wearing them at least weekly for the next 15 or so years. Even when I wasn't wearing them, I was tapping. Tapping at the bus stop, under my desk at school, even in the grocery store--relishing in the rhythms I was making and memorizing the steps so I wouldn't have to think about them anymore when the music started playing in class.

Gregory Hines is the tap legend I've always known best, in part from his captivating performances in the 1985 dance film White Nights (which co-starred Mikhail Baryshnikov and was choreographed by Twyla Tharp). If you haven't seen it and have a few minutes, I highly recommend this clip of a Gregory Hines tap solo from the film... 

Gregory Hines was a master of rhythm tap, which is different from what I learned as a child, and different from what you usually see at a traditional dance recital or musical theatre performance. In rhythm tap, the dancer's center of gravity is a little lower, and the emphasis is much more on the feet and the sounds they make than on anything else, including what the dance looks like. It's literally "music" through movement.

The most famous rhythm tapper performing today is Savion Glover, and I can't tell you how excited I am that Holiday House has published a picture book biography about him! 

This Is Tap: Savion Glover Finds His Funk, by Selene Castrovilla and Laura Freeman, not only tells the story of how Savion's natural knack and passion for rhythm propelled him to stardom but also serves as an intuitive introduction to rhythm tap. 

Full of lyrical language and onomatopoeia, the words on the pages--with all their rhythms and sounds--are the perfect embodiment of this dance style. And the illustrations, ranging from a bouncing baby Savion to an adult Savion combining the funk of hip-hop with all those beats in his body, focus on the feet and boost the energy of the already boisterous text...  

Hittin' meant expressin' yourself with your feet  

Makin' a statement  

When the audience picked up on what you were putting' down, you hit  



While preparing to write this post, I learned that Savion Glover was actually a regular on Sesame Street from 1990 to 1995. That means there's probably a whole bunch of lucky 30-something-year-olds out there who grew up with Savion...and tap dancing! That makes me so happy. 

In case you'd like to see Savion Glover in action, or simply feel like reminiscing about Sesame Street, I'm going to leave you with a few videos. The first is of a young Savion playing a rhyming game in which he rhymes/raps while dancing out a bunch of words that rhyme with "tap." It's adorable...and infectious!

The second video, also from Sesame Street, stars both Savion Glover AND Gregory Hines, who was one of Savion's teachers. What a treat to see two generations of tap legends together on--in my humble opinion--the best children's show ever created...

And the final video is a clip of a more mature Savion Glover dancing, in 2002, with the cast of the Tony Award-winning musical Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk during a telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Wowza!

Learn more about This Is Tap: Savion Glover Finds His Funk from publisher Holiday House here. You can also read this blog post from the University of Michigan's University Musical Society for a brief introduction to the very interesting, but complex, history of tap dance in America. 

Monday, October 31, 2022

Ride, Roll, Run: Time for a Fun Giveaway!

Happy Halloween to all who celebrate! No tricks from me today, but I do have a treat -- a giveaway of the fabulous new picture book Ride, Roll, Run: Time for Fun! by Valerie Bolling and Sabrena Khadija! Leave a comment at the end of this post to enter, and make sure to subscribe to the comments to find out the results. I'll choose a random winner when the giveaway closes at 11:59 pm EST on November 7th!

Children's author Valerie Bolling burst onto the scene in 2020 with her debut picture book, Let's Dance!using joyful rhythm and rhyme to celebrate dance and diversity around the world. Her new picture book, Ride, Roll, Run: Time for Fun! is another joyful ode to childhood, this time celebrating community and friendship. you can tell from the's full of movement! 

The book begins just as a school day ends, and a diverse group of students make their way into the neighborhood for a fun afternoon. They play on skateboards, bikes, and jungle gyms. They make music and dance, play double dutch, and shoot hoops. They partake in nearly every activity you might imagine children would enjoy outside in the streets!

The beautiful digital art by Sabrena Kadija adds a retro flair to the book. Maybe it's the color palette, or the big-rimmed glasses some of the children are wearing, but the art combined with the concept of the book transports me back to my own my own memories of playing outside with my brothers or other neighborhood kids for hours on end after school or on the weekends. 

Perhaps I am in a nostalgic mood, but reading this picture book also brings back memories of the many hours I spent watching Sesame Street as a child. The diversity, the childhood innocence, and all that neighborly love! 

Sesame Street holds a very special place in my heart, and now Ride, Roll, Run: Time for Fun! does, too!

So...I know I said "no tricks from me" at the beginning of this post, but I may have misspoke. I do have one little trick...I'll give you an extra entry in the giveaway if you answer this question in the comments: Which movement from the title of the book do you prefer? Riding? Rolling? Running?

Thanks for reading all the way through!

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

A Celebration of Women...and a Giveaway!

For so many families, the past two years been tumultuous--saturated with unexpected changes, necessary adjustments, and a heavy dose of soul searching along the way. That's how it's been for my family, so unfortunately my blog didn't get much attention during the thick of it all. But...I am back. I am ready to reboot my blog. I am ready to talk some more about picture books and dance!!

Since it is International Women's Day, what better way to celebrate than to feature a picture book full of women who both made history and informed the future, helping pave the way for so many who came after them. And this is Picture Books & Pirouettes, after all, so this book must be about dancers :)

Black Ballerinas: My Journey to Our Legacy is a compilation of 27 stories of Black ballerinas who fought back against discrimination throughout the past 100 years and influenced the career of the book's author, Misty Copeland, who made history herself as the first Black female principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. Each story in the book is very personal, with Misty describing not only biographical information about each dancer but also detailed thoughts and feelings about her own connection the women. I actually got goosebumps reading some of the stories!

Each story is accompanied by a full-page drawing of the featured dancer by illustrator Salena Barnes. The art is contemporary and whimsical, with a wonderful sense of movement and joy and a soft pallet of greys, golds, pinks, and blues. Each illustration is also accompanied by an inspirational quote by the dancer. Although this picture book is not intended for the youngest children, it is a powerful book for older children through adults interested in dance, history, and the strength of women.


Luck was on my side not too long ago when I was browsing the children's section of a book store and came across a copy of Black Ballerinas that was signed by Misty Copeland. Of course I snapped it up. And today I would like to offer it to one of you!

All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post and either follow up with the comments or leave your contact information so I can reach you if you win. One idea is to leave a comment about a special woman (past or present) who has influenced your own life. 

The giveaway will close at 12:00 am EST on March 16, 2022, and I will use a random number generator to choose the winner. Good luck, and Happy International Women's Day!

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

#BlackLivesMatter #BlackStoriesMatter

I'm still looking for words for what is happening in our country right now. Our youngest daughter, who is 13, is also looking for words. I think she is off to a good start with the sign she made below. We're planning to attend the outskirts of a peaceful demonstration in our hometown on Friday, and these are the words she will carry with her...

I haven't made my sign yet but am going to include this incredibly beautiful tribute (below) that our friend in Chicago, Meenakshi Dash, painted. She has given permission to share it, with or without credit, so feel free to do so if you are as moved by it as I was. Her painting has helped calm me amidst the turmoil and allowed me to begin thinking about how I can take action in this time of change...

Painting of George Floyd by Meenakshi Dash (2020)

Earlier today, a Black colleague at my workplace offered suggestions on how all of us can be part of the change. (Thanks, Shawnda!) Stand up immediately if someone says or does something racist, whether that person realizes it or not. Push through the awkwardness you might feel. Make and display a sign, like my daughter did. Attend a protest. Educate yourself about racism, African American history, police brutality. Start a conversation with family and friends.

I would like to add that you can read or share a book by a Black author or a Black illustrator. Here are a few whose picture books I have featured on my blog. If you click on the author and illustrator links, you can learn more about the creators and see some of their truly amazing portfolios. The book links take you to my blog posts, some of which include interviews or stories about meeting the creators...

Author: Michelle Meadows
Illustrator: Ebony Glenn
Book: Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins
Book: Hibernation Station

Illustrator: Theodore Taylor III
Foreword: Misty Copeland
Book: Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson

Author: Valerie Bolling 
Book: Let's Dance!

Author: Connie Schofield-Morrison
Illustrator: Frank Morrison
Book: I Got the Rhythm 

Author: Patricia C. McKissack
Illustrator: Jerry Pinkney
Book: Mirandy and Brother Wind 

Here are a couple other fantastic resources for finding children's books that feature Black characters and voices:

The Brown Bookshelf 
"Brown Like Me" Books

If you have particular Black authors or Black illustrators you admire, or other websites you recommend, please give them a shoutout in the comments below. #BlackLivesMatter #BlackStoriesMatter
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