The Magic of Friendship: A.J. Irving on The Wishing Flower

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I know things have been quiet around here, but I’m so thrilled to to have the privilege to chat with AJ Irving today! We are going to talk all about her newest release, The Wishing Flower, illustrated by Kip Alizadeh. But first, let me introduce you to A.J.!

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. is the author of Dance Like a Leaf and The Wishing Flower. 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 bulldogs.

AJ, thank you so much for joining me today! I’m so excited to chat with you about The Wishing Flower, but before we get into it, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am so excited to be on Rainbow Reads. Thank you for having me, Devyn! I’m a 40-year-old bi mama, picture book author, and animal lover. My family has moved around a bit over the last few years for my husband’s brewing career. Moving from Seattle to rural Wyoming to Salt Lake City has been quite an adventure. After we moved to Utah, I decided I wanted to work in a library again. The jail library is a perfect fit for me because I am passionate about everyone having access to books. We receive a lot of moving messages from jail library patrons about how much they appreciate our library services. It’s incredibly rewarding work and has inspired my latest picture book project.

That sound like such fulfilling work! And speaking of picture books, The Wishing Flower is your second picture book. Can you tell us a bit about it? What inspired you to write The Wishing Flower?

The Wishing Flower is the queer girl picture book of my heart. It was inspired by my first crush in elementary school. I was Birdie. I was a shy girl who longed for connection. Just like Birdie, my wish came true when I became friends with a girl who truly saw me. Revisiting my childhood to write this story was such a beautiful experience. The first lines that came to me were about how Sunny made Birdie feel: “When Sunny smiled, two dragonflies played tag in Birdie’s tummy. When Sunny waved, Birdie’s heart fluttered as fast as a hummingbird’s wings.”

Title: The Wishing Flower
Author: A.J. Irving
Illustrator: Kip Alizadeh
Published: May 30, 2023
Publisher: Knopf Books For Young Readers (Penguin Random House)
Format: Picture Book

You can absolutely tell this is the queer girl picture book of your heart. There is so much love in every single line. Are there any particular scenes or moments in the book that hold special significance for you? If so, can you share why?

The cubby and geese scenes. In the book, Birdie draws a sun and puts it in Sunny’s cubby. I put a necklace in my crush’s cubby, but I think art is a much sweeter gift. For as long as I can remember, I’ve watched geese fly across the sky until they go out of sight. In the book, Birdie and Sunny watch the geese disappear at sunset. I love how Kip illustrated these special moments in The Wishing Flower.

The illustrations by Kip Alizadeh bring Birdie and Sunny’s story to life wonderfully! What was it like when you saw your text with their illustrations the first time?

Seeing art for the first time is my favorite part of the process. Kip brought Birdie and Sunny’s story to life brilliantly. Their stunning art took my breath away. I gasped and whispered to myself, “Oh, Kip.” Then I devoured the PDF a bazillion more times and shared it with my family.

What kind of impact do you hope The Wishing Flower will have on its readers, particularly LGBTQ+ children?

My editor said The Wishing Flower was the picture book of her dreams and that she would have felt much safer about her feelings if it had existed when she was growing up. It’s incredibly important for children to feel safe about their feelings. I always want my readers to feel seen, safe, and loved. I hope LGBTQ+ children feel brave and proud to be themselves after reading The Wishing Flower.

Absolutely! I can’t imagine how finding a safe space in a book like this would have changed my life as a child. Can you share any challenges you faced while writing The Wishing Flower and how you overcame them?

I started writing The Wishing Flower in 2020. Then Covid hit. Like so many other creatives, my work went on the back burner. I was too consumed with worry to focus on my writing. It was also disappointing to debut in 2020, and I was devastated when our dog, Charlie, passed away from lymphoma just after her seventh birthday. So, I tucked The Wishing Flower away and searched for inspiration through books and webinars. The SCBWI Summer Spectacular virtual conference was just what I needed. Jane Yolen’s session brought me to tears and lit the spark I needed to finish the book.

Can you talk about the importance of representation not only in characters but also in the creative team behind the book?

I’m so glad my agent found an editor who really got the book and agreed that a queer illustrator should illustrate it. Kip was my number one choice. I even wished on a wishing flower that they would say yes. I’m thrilled they connected with the book. I couldn’t imagine the art any other way. I’m proud to bring a queer book into the world that was created by a queer team.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers who want to create queer children’s literature?

I’ve been a queer kidlit mentor for the last two years. I’m so lucky I’ve had the opportunity to work with two incredibly talented writers. My advice is to read hundreds of books, write from your heart, and fight for our right to read. LGBTQ+ children need your stories now more than ever. Don’t give up!

What’s next for you? Are there any other projects or upcoming works you would like to share with us?

I have an unannounced queer picture book that I’m eager to share. I am super excited to work with this illustrator! I’m also working on a story inspired by my job in the jail library.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all my questions, AJ. I can’t wait to see your next books and the impacts they will have on kids like Birdie and Sunny.

To learn more about AJ and her work, be sure to visit her online at her website, on Instagram @aj_irving, and Twitter @aj_irving. And don’t miss the giveaway of a signed copy of The Wishing Flower over on Rainbow Read’s Instagram!

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