In spite of a quick bout of unseasonably warm weather this week, for the most part my garden has been hunkering down and preparing for fall. The ivy on the house has turned orange. The tree outside our window is red. My tomatoes are doing that thing where they try to convince you that they are TOTALLY fine and gonna pull through (spoiler alert: they will not). And my flowers? Aside from some hardy fall plants and some mildly psychotic zinnias (I specialize in mildly psychotic zinnias) they’re all gone. I think my little gardener heart was in just the right spot when I was given the chance to reveal the honestly warm, welcoming, and flower-filled JUST FLOWERS (out March 2024) by Erin Dealey with art by Kate Cosgrove.
Here’s a quick recap of the plot:
“Izzy’s new neighbor is a bit of a grump–though they are both botanically inclined. When the neighbor discovers unwanted flowers–again and again–in his precious rose garden, he bids Izzy to take them away. Izzy does–and uses the blooms to brighten someone else’s day. Before long, the town is bursting with Izzy’s flowers. The grumpy neighbor doesn’t see the fuss. “They’re JUST FLOWERS!” he yells. “Just flowers” that brought joy and color to everyone in town. Can Izzy finally get that neighbor to accept the bloom of friendship? Back matter includes a seek-and-find and information on the flowers mentioned in the book.”
Erin Dealey was also kind enough to talk to me about the title, so before we get to the cover reveal, here’s a look behind the scenes:
Betsy Bird: Hello to you, Erin! As a small time gardener myself I was just charmed by your JUST FLOWERS. Can you tell us a little about where this book came from? What is its origin story?
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Erin Dealey: First off, thank you, Betsy, for these great questions and for helping to share Kate Cosgrove’s incredible cover of JUST FLOWERS.
The seeds of JUST FLOWERS were planted (Couldn’t resist.) by the gorgeous posts on an Insta thread: #ayearinflowers. A few of my friends were posting monthly flower photos and I was hooked. From there I discovered delicious words like Ranunculus and Galanthus–and the sheer joy of saying them out loud, even though I didn’t know what they meant. I love wordplay and couldn’t stop thinking about how fun it might be to read those words aloud in a picture book.
BB: In this story, Izzy’s neighbor is obsessed with roses and only roses while Izzy runs through a plethora of other flowers. How did you go about choosing which flowers to include in the story and which to exclude?
ED: Writing a picture book is such a fun adventure! Choosing the flowers took me down a fascinating rabbit hole I’d never explored. Izzy knows way more about flowers than I do. I began by studying those monthly garden posts, researching which flowers might be blooming when and where—and equally important, which ones would be fun for readers. I had a great time pairing the flowers with their recipients too. I mean, of course the pediatrician should get the Mums, and our friend Carley was a barista at the time so when I found cup-and-saucer vine… That had to happen.
BB: In addition to some nice flower identification at the back of the book there’s also a bit of information about Monarch Migration Waystations. Was this always intended to be part of the storyline, or was it something you added after the initial draft?
ED: Thanks, and yes, the milkweed and monarch migration waystations were always in the book. One of my goals was to involve as many members of the community as possible. I was thrilled that my brilliant editor, Sarah Rockett, wanted to keep the waystation information in the backmatter too.
Fun fact: In the first draft one of Izzy’s classmates didn’t believe the monarchs would come to the milkweed. It was Sarah’s suggestion to leave the naysaying to the neighbor. I love how that put the focus where it should be—on the monarchs and the wonderfully diverse group of students depicted in Kate Cosgrove’s illustration. I truly appreciate how Sarah’s insights helped to shape this book. A picture book is a team effort.
BB: Are you a gardener yourself? If so, what kinds of flowers could we hope to see if we visited?
ED: I am a smaller than small-time gardener, and I so appreciate the “green thumbs” of others. As friends and relatives have discovered, if you want to know the name of some plant or flower on a hike, I am not your man. We do have a vegetable garden where you can sample sun-ripened tomatoes (so good!) and leafy greens, and way too much eggplant if you’d like some. However, the flowers in our yard are limited to what our frequent visitors, aka the adorable-but-ravenous deer, won’t devour. Around here, in the foothills of northern California, you might find irises, lavender, crocus, geraniums, poppies, and roses. I wonder if Izzy’s neighbor would be pleased or insulted to see our roses protected by deer fence?
BB: What are your feelings about the art for this book by Kate Cosgrove? Did she bring anything to the book that surprised you?
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ED: Kate’s illustrations are breath-taking! The palette alone is gorgeous. And the world she brought to our story is full of surprises, from the flowers in Izzy’s mother’s hair to the absolutely beautiful community that blossoms from Izzy’s acts of kindness. I could stare at this book all day and find something new. It’s grown into a stunning work of art. I am in awe.
BB: Finally, what are you working on next?
ED: I am so very grateful for the creative world around me. I have several writerly irons in the fire right now. I’m very excited about a pb bio I just finished. And there’s a picture book that’s near and dear to my heart, coming in 2025, that we got an offer for fairly recently. Then, in between #kidlit projects, I’ve been writing short 1-act plays for high school theater departments to perform at competitions and the first will be published soon. (Huzzah!)
Also, during the pandemic, I started writing screenplays, and…can’t say more about that yet either but think GOOD thoughts! Am I being vague enough? Meanwhile, I am so happy to celebrate the cover reveal of JUST FLOWERS.
And now . . . the cover!
Lovely. Just lovely.
Just Flowers is on store and library shelves everywhere March 24, 2024. Thanks to Erin Dealey for answering my questions and to the folks at Sleeping Bear Press for this reveal and Q&A. Now, everyone, just close your eyes and think of spring . . .
Filed under: Cover Reveal, Interviews