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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Hacket

The Backstory: THE WISHING FLOWER

I can think of no better way of kicking off Pride Month than with a feature on an LGBTQ+ picture book from an incredible, lyrical author who is putting in the work to increase representation and the availability of queer books for kids. AJ Irving, the author of DANCE LIKE A LEAF, is here today with her latest picture book, THE WISHING FLOWER (Knopf BFYR, 2023) with illustrations by Kip Alizadeh. This gorgeous book is sure to help so many children feel seen and develop a sense of belonging in a world in which that can be hard to find. So let's get right to it and begin our conversation with AJ.


Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind THE WISHING FLOWER.


First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.


The Wishing Flower is the queer girl picture book of my heart. It was inspired by my first crush. Just like Birdie, I was a shy girl who felt different and alone until I became friends with a girl who truly saw me. It’s a love letter about longing, belonging, and longing to belong.

AJ this is gorgeous! We hear so often to search our memories to find those sparks of creativity. I LOVE that you were able to channel these childhood feelings of yours into a text that will help kids who might be feeling the same as you were to feel seen and accepted. Books and digital media can play a huge role in children's self-esteem and how they perceive themselves. You have given a gift to all children who are discovering their identity.

What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?


The idea came from my agent. We were on a call discussing my latest batch of passes from editors. She asked me if I would be interested in writing a queer girl picture book in my lyrical voice. It was an electrifying moment. I went on a hike as soon as we ended our call. The first lines came to me on that hike. I worked on the story all day and sent my agent a draft that night.

Wow! It sounds like your agent knew exactly the right suggestion to make. That is a magical feeling when a new idea strikes such a chord that you are able to commit the time and let it consume you.

How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now THE WISHING FLOWER? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?


I had never been this excited about a manuscript. I went to bed and woke up thinking about Birdie and Sunny. Then Covid happened. I didn’t write a single sentence for months. I returned to The Wishing Flower after attending the SCBWI Summer Spectacular virtual conference. Jane Yolen’s session brought me to tears and lit the spark I needed to polish the story.

It is funny how our energy for an idea or manuscript can fade, not as a result of our belief in it, but because of all the extraneous factors in our life. I am glad you found the needed words to reignite your work on this story and I am not surprised in the least to hear that it was Jane Yolen's words that provided that burst of motivation.


Did THE WISHING FLOWER undergo any major changes/revisions from the original version? If so, what led you to make these changes?

The first draft flowed out of me. I knew I was onto something special. My agent agreed, but she asked me to dig deeper. That’s when the magic happened. But the biggest change was inspired by my daughter. The first few drafts didn’t include wishing flowers. I knew the story was missing something. My daughter has always called dandelions wishing flowers. She’d been pleading with me for a few years to write a story about them. This was the missing piece.

I love that your daughter provided the missing piece for this story. She must feel so special seeing her idea in print!

Are there any books or authors that you feel influenced your work on THE WISHING FLOWER?

I adore everything Corrina Luyken and Julie Fogliano create. I also read all the new LGBTQ+ picture books I could get my hands on, which was difficult because I lived in a rural town in Wyoming at the time. My library charged $2 per book for interlibrary loans outside of my county. But that didn’t deter me from putting a ton of books on hold! I thought I was working on the first girl crush picture book because Love, Violet by Charlotte Sullivan Wild and Charlene Chua hadn’t been announced yet. Love, Violet is such a beautiful picture book! I definitely would have read it if it had been out when I was working on The Wishing Flower. Love, Violet will now be in good company with The Wishing Flower by its' side on the shelf.



As writers there are so many amazing resources available from books to webinars to organizations. What kidlit resources have been the most beneficial to you?

Yes! There are so many amazing kidlit resources! Kidlit411, We Need Diverse Books, Storyteller Academy, and SCBWI have been the most beneficial to me. In terms of books, I love Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. So many of my kidlit friends have recommended Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. I finally got a copy!


So many great suggestions for resources! I think one of the keys for authors is discovering which resources are the best fit for them. Otherwise, there are so many options it could become overwhelming.


Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?


I can’t wait for The Wishing Flower launch party on Saturday, June 3, at Under the Umbrella Bookstore in Salt Lake City. I will also be on the Seven Minutes in Book Heaven podcast on June 6. And I really hope to be able to shout about my unannounced queer picture book soon! It sounds like you have some fun events coming up! I hope the podcast and book launch go well. And I can't wait to hear more about your next book! I so appreciate that more LGBTQ+ books are being made. Kids need and deserve to see themselves represented in books and you are doing such a service to them.


Where can people connect more with you?


I love connecting with other creators, teachers, and librarians. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram at @aj_irving. You can also reach out to me on my website at https://ajirving.com/.


Readers please consider giving AJ a follow if you haven't already and check out her website.


And while you are at it, consider purchasing or putting in a library request for THE WISHING FLOWER (Knopf BFYR, 2023) with illustrations by Kip Alizadeh.



AJ, thank you again for sharing your beautiful book with us along with the story of how it came to be. I am a huge fan of your work and appreciate you taking the time to chat with us.

 

GIVEAWAY!


AJ is generously offering one winner a signed copy of THE WISHING FLOWER. (US only)


Ways to enter:

1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!

or

2. Leave a comment on this post.

or

3. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.


Each method earns an extra entry!

 

ABOUT AJ IRVING


A.J. Irving grew up in Boise, Idaho, writing stories and daydreaming about becoming an author. 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. She is the author of Dance Like a Leaf (Barefoot Books, 2020) and The Wishing Flower (Knopf BFYR, May 30, 2023).

As a children’s author and former bookmobile librarian, A.J. is passionate about inspiring kids to love books. When she’s not reading, writing, or dancing, she enjoys exploring Utah with her husband, two children, and their English bulldog.



 

ABOUT ANDREW HACKET


Andrew Hacket is a teacher by day, parent by night, and writer in the nooks and crannies of life. When it comes to his books, Andrew aims to create stories that tickle the funny bone and hug the heart of readers both young and old.


Andrew is the author of the early reader, CURLILOCKS AND THE THREE HARES (The Little Press, 2024) and the picture book, OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA (Page Street Kids, 2024). Additionally, his short story, THE TUNNEL, has been chosen for inclusion in the SCBWI anthology, The Haunted States of America.


Andrew lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three young children, and puppy, Gus.


Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.

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6 comentarios


Jessica Milo
Jessica Milo
09 jun 2023

Congrats to you and Kip on your beautiful PB, A.J.!! I cannot wait to read about Birdie and Sunny!!

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Miembro desconocido
02 jun 2023

Congrats to AJ & Kip on this beautiful book!

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seschipper
02 jun 2023

I always enjoying learning about the story behind the story! :)

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hello
01 jun 2023

Aww! I love hearing about your journey in writing it! I can't believe the first draft came out in a day. Amazing!

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Stephanie Maksymiw
Stephanie Maksymiw
01 jun 2023

What a lovely story. Look forward to reading it.

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