I am thrilled to welcome Iva Valentino here today for an interview about her middle grade book Black Cats and Ballet Slippers. I have actually had Iva in my dance class years ago, so I can attest that she really does know her dance! My ten-year-old Katie Rose and I read her book together and came up with some questions we wanted to ask:
Katie Rose: How did you get the idea for this book?
Iva: The idea for Black Cats and Ballet Slippers came about during my last year of teaching middle school science. In the book, Gemma’s science teacher, Ms. Pruett, has a really creepy classroom. The classroom has a preproom with lots of “witchy” things, such as powdered unicorn horn and other ingredients for spells. In my classroom, I also had a big preproom. My classroom was actually very nice and not creepy at all, but over time my imagination took over. I started to envision this preproom as being Ms. Pruett’s! Then, to my already existing “witch’s brew” of story ideas, I added my love of dance, which is something that I’ve done since I was a kid.
Rose-Marie: Have you ever made a false assumption about someone the way Gemma did?
Iva: When I was growing up, my family and I lived in this quiet little neighborhood. One day we got some new neighbors. I was convinced that it was one of the New Kids on the Block moving in with his parents! I thought it looked just like him. I thought that if I played my New Kids on the Block tape really loud on my boombox with my bedroom windows open, he would come over and introduce himself. Needless to say, it ended up NOT being one of the New Kids. Definitely a false assumption!
Katie Rose: Why did you choose the title Black Cats and Ballet Slippers?
Iva: The title Black Cats and Ballet Slippers just popped into my head one day! Even though Gemma tells the story through her diary, there are a lot of books out there that already have “Diary” in the title, and I wanted to do something different. Then one day… TA DA! I just knew it was the perfect fit.
Iva: I really wanted the story to be funny and light-hearted, even though there is some Halloween spookiness going on. I thought, what better way than in diary format? I found it very easy for Gemma to tell her story, straight out of her own head and onto paper. One of the challenges I came across with this style was near the end of the book. So much happens in such a short period of time, and sometimes it was challenging to give Gemma enough opportunities to write everything down!
Katie Rose: Why did you want to become a writer? How many books did you write before you wrote this one?
Iva: I’ve loved writing since I was a kid. I used to write short stories all of the time when I was growing up. I had so much fun creating characters and taking them on fun, crazy adventures! I wrote my first novel after I finished college. To be quite honest, I don’t think it was very good at all! However, it was great practice and I’m glad that I wrote it. It will probably never come out of the drawer. ☺
Rose-Marie: Are you working on another book now?
Katie Rose: How long have you been writing books?
Iva: Black Cats and Ballet Slippers is my first published book! It came out a year ago, last March.
Rose-Marie: You used to teach middle grade students– how much of what appears in this book comes from your students?
Iva: Teaching kids at the middle school level is what really gave me a lot of insight into writing about kids at this age. I absolutely LOVED working with middle schoolers! They told the best jokes and made me laugh every day. However, there aren’t any students or teachers that I’ve based any of the characters off of—they are all completely original characters!
Rose-Marie: I loved the interaction between Gemma and Joey – I think you nailed the middle grade boy/girl experience there. Did you go to a dance with a boy when you were in middle school? Any awkward boy stories to share?
Iva: Haha! I love this question. I went to several dances in middle school. And—yes— they were VERY awkward. Middle school was just a very awkward time for a lot of kids! Although I wasn’t tall like Gemma, I was super skinny and always felt self-conscious. I was very shy and I think I only danced with maybe one or two boys. I definitely would have liked to have a boyfriend, but I never had one until I got to high school. I had a diary during my middle school years, and I always filled them up with stories about all of my secret crushes!
Iva Valentino lives in Arizona with her husband and their dog, Lupo. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master’s degree in Education. She loves living year-round in the warm desert.
Iva spent many years as a middle school teacher, where she enjoyed teaching her students all about science. She currently works as a science editor at an educational publishing company. She loves travel, yoga, and photography. There is nothing that brings her more happiness than a good dance class!
You can visit Iva at the following sites:
Purchasing links for Black Cats and Ballet Slippers: