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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with A.J. Irving and Review of The Wishing Flower

A.J. Irving grew up in Boise, Idaho, writing stories and daydreaming about becoming an author.

Author Photo of A.J. Irving

Now, she writes picture books and poetry beneath an old elm tree in Salt Lake City. A.J. reads kidlit every day and dances every chance she gets. As an author and former bookmobile librarian, A.J. is passionate about inspiring children to love books.

Book Cover of Dance Like a Leaf

She’s the author of Dance Like a Leaf, illustrated by Claudia Navarro (2020)


For more information about A.J., see our earlier interview (here).


Her newest picture book, The Wishing Flower, was released yesterday.


A.J., thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest picture book and writing.


What do you like to do outside by yourself or with friends and family?

Image of Salt River & Arizona hills. © by Visit Phoenix

I love to stargaze, visit waterfalls, and go hiking and rafting. My kiddos are much braver than I am though! They both went cliff jumping into the Snake River on our last whitewater rafting trip in Wyoming. The Salt River was more my speed. Although one time there were a bunch of cows standing in the middle of the river and they refused to mooove!

© Visit Phoenix

That's funny. Sounds like a good start to a picture book. What was your inspiration or spark of interest for The Wishing Flower?

Cover of The Wishing Flower.

The Wishing Flower was inspired by my first crush. Writing this story was such a beautiful experience. It transported me back to my childhood and allowed me to relive so many memories and emotions. I was Birdie. I was a shy girl who longed to belong until I met a girl who made me feel like I could fly.

That emotion comes out clearly through Birdie. What is the most fun or interesting place that you’ve written a manuscript or started a story?

One time, I started writing a picture book manuscript on the back of a CVS receipt in my car. You gotta do what you gotta do! I’ve discovered that it’s crucial to get those lines down when your adrenaline is pumping, or the moment will slip away, and your words won’t carry the same energy.


Ha! I totally agree. How long did it take for The Wishing Flower to go from its spark to publication?

It took about three years from the first draft to publication. I started writing it in 2020. Then Covid hit. Like so many other authors, I couldn’t write anything at all. I put it away for many months. During that time, I attended several SCBWI virtual events and worked through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron with a close group of writing friends. We had frequent Zoom calls to catch up, discuss the book, have cocktails, and make each other laugh. I would have been lost without these ladies. Covid definitely made us appreciate our critique partners, friends, and family. What was the hardest thing you encountered about writing The Wishing Flower?


Dealing with unexpected, heartbreaking events. 2020 was such a rough year for so many reasons. It was very stressful and disappointing to debut during the pandemic. And I was crushed when our dog, Charlie, passed away from lymphoma. I also worried I would never sell another book. Looking back, I am amazed that I was able to write and sell The Wishing Flower in 2020. That is quite an accomplishment. Is there something you want your readers to know about The Wishing Flower?


The first few drafts of the book didn’t include wishing flowers. I knew the story was missing something. My daughter has always called dandelions wishing flowers. She had been asking me for a few years to write a book about them. This was the missing piece that tied everything together. What a wonderful way to incorporate her request into your cathartic story. Did anything surprise you when you first saw Kip Alizadeh’s illustrations? Which is your favorite spread?

Internal image of Birdie and Sunny happily swinging high into the sky.

Text © A.J. Irving, 2020. Image © Kip Alizadeh, 2020.


Together, they soared so high their toes kissed the clouds.

Yes! And it was the most amazing surprise. My daughter drew character sketches of Birdie and Sunny after I finished the manuscript. Great minds think alike because the similarities between Kip and Sophie’s sketches are incredible! It is SO hard to pick a favorite spread. Kip captured the magic of childhood so brilliantly throughout the book. I will probably change my mind from day to day. Today, my favorite spread is Birdie and Sunny swinging together. This spread also has my favorite line of text in the book.


Such a wonderful spread! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I have an unannounced queer picture book. It’s the most unique book I’ve ever written. We sold it in fall 2021. I’m hoping to be able to share more about it soon! Good luck with it! Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Photo Grand Teton National Park - by National Park Service

My family has lived in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, and Utah. We’ve had incredible outdoor experiences in each of these states, but Grand Teton National Park is my favorite. The lakes, waterfalls, and wildlife are nothing short of spectacular. I encountered a grizzly cub and two moose on a hike with my friend on the same day! Now that we live in Utah, I am eager to visit Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Arches National Park.

© National Park Service


Thank you, A.J for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you again.


To find out more about A.J. Irving, or contact her:


Review of The Wishing Flower


A beautiful, touching book which captures poetically and visually a child's joy in discovering acceptance, belonging, and friendship.

Cover image of The Wishing Flower

The Wishing Flower


Author: A.J. Irving


Illustrator: Kip Alizadeh


Publisher: Random House Children's Books (2023)


Ages: 4-8


Fiction


Themes:

Belonging. inclusion, LGTBQ+, self-acceptance, and friendship.


Synopsis:

An LGBTQ-inclusive story about understanding your peers, your feelings, and yourself, The Wishing Flower is a love letter to longing, belonging, and longing to belong.


Birdie finds comfort in nature and books, but more than anything she longs for connection, to be understood. At school, Birdie feels like an outsider. Quiet and shy, she prefers to read by herself, rather than jump rope or swing with the other kids. That all changes when Sunny, the new girl, comes along. Like Birdie, Sunny has a nature name. She also likes to read, and loves to rescue bugs. And when Sunny smiles at her, Birdie’s heart balloons like a parachute.


From the acclaimed author of Dance Like a Leaf, with stunning illustrations by Kip Alizadeh, this book will inspire readers to honor their wishes and show the world their truest selves.


Opening Lines:

Birdie loved books and bugs and birds and stars,

but most of all, she loved to watch her wishes soar.


What I LOVED about this book:

This is such wonderful opening lines and a fantastic illustration. Butterflies, birds, wishes, and stars all swooshing and soaring around Birdie, as she blows on a wishing flower (dandelion).

Opening spread of girls laying in the grass with wishes, stars, birds, & butterflies swooping about her.

Text © A.J. Irving, 2020. Image © Kip Alizadeh, 2020.


A shy child, Birdie often sought refuge in her books. I really loved the unique similes A.J. Irving used to describe Birdie and the way Kip Alizadeh illustrated her highlighted in a glow still surrounded by butterflies and birds.

Internal spread of Birdie alone with a book on swings, while other kids jump rope or kick a ball.

Text © A.J. Irving, 2020. Image © Kip Alizadeh, 2020.


Birdie felt inside out at home and at school.

Quiet as starlight and shy like a pill bug,

Birdie curled up in the pages of her books.


When Sunny joined the class, Birdie discovered a kindred spirit. "Sunny had freckles like constellations and a nature name." She was someone else who also loved books, animals, and art. Despite Birdie's nerves, "two dragonflies played tag in Birdie’s tummy" and her "heart fluttered as fast as a hummingbird’s wings," as the day progressed, her bravery grew and with it a friendship with Sunny. In addition to including birds, butterflies, and stars somewhere in every soft, digitally created illustration, Kip Alizadeh used swooshes of light to show Birdie's explosion of joy and increasing confidence.

 Internal spread -  on left Sunny introduced to class and on right thress spot illustrations of Sunny and Birdie learning the like the same things.

Text © A.J. Irving, 2020. Image © Kip Alizadeh, 2020.


If you've enjoyed these illustrations, you'll adore the fun and enthusiasm in the ones leading up to the swing set image A.J. mentioned above and the perfect ending. A wonderful story of acceptance and friendship, this book will appeal to any kid whose felt like an outsider; perfectly meeting each reader generally and specifically as needed. It's a special ode to making wishes and finding someone who sees you and shares your interests.


Resources:

Image of two friendship bookmark examples.

- paint a picture or a rock, make a bracelet or bookmark for a friend.


- do you have a special way to make wishes? Blowing on a flower, wishing on a star or the moon, or maybe putting a wish under your pillow?


- pair this with Invisible Jerry by Adam Wallace, illustrated by Giuseppe Poli, The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Patrice Barton, and Love, Violet by Charlotte Sullivan Wild, illustrated by Charlene Chua.

Comments


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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