Frieda Wishinsky: How a Zinnia Sparked a Book

August 18, 2023

A monarch butterfly feeding on a red zinnia.Welcome to Cantastic Authorpalooza, featuring posts by and about great Canadian children’s book creators! Today’s guest: Frieda Wishinsky. Take it away, Frieda!

I’ve always been fascinated by the story behind a book.  What sparks an idea or theme?

My latest picture book, A Flower is a Friend with luminous art by Karen Patkau, published by Pajama Press, began with a packet of zinnia seeds.

I‘d long admired the multilayered, rich colors of zinnias so I thought why not grow some from seeds? I bought a packet for under $2.00 and carefully dug the seeds of this annual into my perennial garden. Then I waited.

To my delight after about a month, the zinnias grew tall and beautiful. Their bright flowers not only attracted me, but butterflies and bees.

One day as I photographed a monarch flitting back and forth between two zinnias, I noticed that it seemed especially drawn to a bright red zinnia. It landed on the flower and drank the nectar and pollen so deeply and so long (for a monarch) that I was able to get closer and closer and take photo after photo.

I liked the pictures I took that morning and thought I could do something with them. Maybe cards? A poster?  Prints?  I shared my thoughts with my illustrator/writer friend Karen Patkau and as I did, I realized that some of those options would be expensive. What about writing a picture book instead? I asked Karen that if I did, would she be interested in doing the art? (It’s unconventional to create a  picture book with an illustrator, especially a friend, but sometimes you try the unconventional.) Karen agreed.

Now all I had to do was figure out how to take a garden moment and turn it into a book. I looked at my photos again and the answer was there. Like many flowers and the creatures who love them, my zinnia and the monarch were interacting, almost kissing.  So what about a book about the connection between flowers and creatures? Kids often think of flowers as static. Why not show how alive and interactive flowers are especially when they meet a friendly creature?  And why not write a book about the symbiotic connection that is so vital to pollination?

I decided to start the “story”  in the morning when flowers like morning glories open and reach for the sun. I’d follow with other flowers and creatures throughout the day and end at night as a crocus closed its petals. 

I wrote a short,  lyrical text, Karen created three beautiful samples and off our submission went.  We were excited when Pajama Press said they’d like to publish our book.

After working with their excellent editor, I added STEM content to extend the reach of the text to a variety of kids (and adults). Each page would now have a question for readers to think about. The short, clear answers would be in the back. Karen added a two-page spread at of a glorious garden with all the creatures and flowers in glowing color and movement.

I love the finished book–a cross between a picture book for young kids, information for older kids and adults and a coffee table book for anyone at any age.

To our delight the reviews have been stellar and even starry, including a star from Kirkus.

When I think about it, though, the best part of writing A Flower is a Friend, maybe the best part of writing any book, is the process. It’s satisfying to grow an idea into a concept or story and watch it bloom into a beautiful book.

1 Comment on ‘Frieda Wishinsky: How a Zinnia Sparked a Book’

  1. What a great idea that grew into a picture book! Very inspiring.

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