Geek Dad Report – Finley Flowers Book Series and Author Interview!
What happens when you find a book series called Finley Flowers for your five year old daughter, and she shares the same name of the main character? Well, you get what we’ve been reading every night since Christmas.
The Finley Flowers series of books are written by Jessica Young, from from publisher Capstone starring none other than Finley Flowers. A young girl who loves crafts, trying new things and being generally fin-spirational. We picked up the first two (Original Recipe and Nature Calls) of the four books (New & Improved and Art-Rageous, round out the series) for Christmas for my five year old daughter, Finley. Needless to say, that having a book series that takes after your name, when your name isn’t largely common is a pretty big deal for our daughter. The stories center around Finley Flowers, her best friend Henry and a cast of friends and family that add different layers and dimensions to the story. The titles are fairly explanatory of what the story is about, Original Recipe is Finley trying to win a cooking contest. They make fun recipes, many disastrous ones, and learn a lesson about themselves in the end. Nature Calls is when the gang goes to a overnight camp and learns what exactly being “tough” is all about and how you can’t always judge someone without giving them a chance to prove themselves. I can only assume (since we haven’t read) New & Improved and Art-Rageous are about science and art in just as great ways.
What we’ve really enjoyed about these books, is that they fit the realities of what my daughter is, almost to a T. You can have a boy best friend that isn’t anywhere near a love interest, you can experiment, have adventures, do things you’re passionate about and most importantly, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Yes, my daughter has plenty of princess books and other such stories that make me roll my eyes and try to keep vomit from erupting out of my mouth as I read them. Thankfully, my wife is well versed in actually empowering books for girls and takes an active role in ensuring our daughter continues to be well rounded. The Finley Flowers series is just another step in the right direction for young readers. How much of an impact has Finley Flowers had on my daughter? She wants to have a Finley Flowers birthday. Full of arts & crafts, science experiments, food for people to make and all manners of things. Finley Flowers has become more than just another book character for my daughter, she’s inspirational, fin-spirational even. I’m not sure what more I could ask for as a Geek Dad.
You can also check out my interview below with the author of Finley Flowers, Jessica Young!
WatchPlayRead: Jessica, thanks for taking the time to talk to us about Finley Flowers! I’ll be honest that the first reason my family picked up your books was that our soon to be six year old daughter is named Finley. I have to start off by asking how you came upon the name Finley Flowers.
Jessica Young: Thanks so much for having me! I’ve always liked the name Finley. I like the sound of it—the softness of the “Fin” at the start, and the long, open “ley” at the end. I also like alliteration, so I was brainstorming last names that start with “F” when “Flowers” popped into my head. For me, plants symbolize creativity and growth, so “Flowers” seemed a natural fit that also had visual/design potential.
WatchPlayRead: Where does the (fin)spiration come from for the character of Finley Flowers and her friends?
Jessica Young: Some Fin-spiration came from memories of being eight and nine. But I was also inspired by students I taught when I was an art teacher, and by my own kids who are always coming up with amazing ideas and making stuff. I wanted Finley to embody that natural sense of discovery and excitement about the creative process. Kids are bombarded with messages about consuming and owning things in our culture. Finley and her friends focus on generating ideas and making things instead.
WatchPlayRead: In book one, Original Recipe, Finley and her best friend Henry are trying out different recipes for the cook-off. Did you have any personal experience with PB&J Pasta with KA-POW sauce or Bugs on a Log?
Jessica Young: Not before writing the book. But I did experiment with other wacky food combinations as a kid. I guess I still do, although I don’t take as many risks when cooking for my family. I made PB&J Pasta and the Bugs on a Log variations with my own kids to taste test before including the recipes in the book. (Some of us liked them more than others!) But our favorite Finley Flowers food is Tastes-Like-Fall Pumpkin Bread (the recipe is in the back of Art-Rageous).
WatchPlayRead: The illustrations by Jessica Secheret give the book some great depth. How much did you coordinate on which parts of the story to illustrate?
Jessica Young: Our wonderful editor and art director at Capstone worked with each of us individually to coordinate the illustrations and the text. I loved how Jessica brought Finley and her friends to life. It was like opening a Fin-tastic present when I got to meet them for the first time.
WatchPlayRead: MY Finley, is a brown eyed, long brown haired girl the same as Finley Flowers (can you guess why she’s hooked?). Was there any reason that lead to her creation in this way?
Jessica Young: I didn’t use a lot of physical description when I first wrote about Finley, but there were a couple of physical characteristics I included in the text because they were part of her story and revealed her character: freckles (which her classmate, Olivia, tried to wipe off in kindergarten) and messy braids. I wanted to leave her open to interpretation. So she developed organically, and I love how she turned out! It made me smile when I first saw her because she looks like my daughter, too.
WatchPlayRead: What would you say is the first book or series that you can remember reading as a child that had a real impact on you?
Jessica Young: I’m not sure which one I read first, but I loved the A Wrinkle in Time series and the Chronicles of Narnia, as well as The Secret Garden and Island of the Blue Dolphins.
WatchPlayRead: How do you find the fine line of writing a book that is empowering for young girls, but staying fun and well, girly?
Jessica Young: When I’m writing, the first thing that comes to me is the dialogue: I can hear the characters’ conversations in my head. From the start, I knew Finley and her friends would get into some fun shenanigans—I could tell from the way they talked. In the second book, Nature Calls, one of the things Finley comes to realize is that people can be tough in many different ways and that she’s mistakenly judged her classmate, Olivia, based on her superficial characteristics. I hope Finley and her friends reflect the breadth of traits that are in all of us—a continuum across what’s viewed as traditional Western female and male characteristics—and that the series is empowering for both girls and boys. I think coming up with ideas and making stuff is empowering for everyone.
WatchPlayRead: In Book 2, Nature Calls, Finley and her friends head to summer camp at Camp Acorn. Did you have summer camp experiences or were you feeling like you missed out like I did?
Jessica Young: I didn’t go to overnight camp every summer as a kid, but I was a camp counselor in high school and college—first at day camps, then at an overnight camp at a lake. In the book, I included a lot of the fun, camp-y activities I remember from those summers—things like sing-alongs, camp crafts, team games, ghost stories, hiking, and campfire cooking.
WatchPlayRead: Are there any artists or writers that inspire you and we might find little pieces of in Finley Flowers?
Jessica Young: There are so many artists who inspire me, across many different art forms (visual art, writing, music, design, etc.). The artists I admire most experiment with new ways of sensing, thinking, and expressing through their media, and Finley and her friends do that, too. In the fourth book, Art-Rageous, Finley and her classmates view and refer to a variety of visual art like Abstract Expressionism, Dutch still life paintings, and works by artists like the Impressionists, Andy Goldsworthy, and Georgia O’Keeffe. As they work on a group assignment, they wrestle with the question, “What is art?” and come up with a project that involves their whole class. In the series, Finley has an “idea garden” in her head where all her Fin-teresting thoughts grow. Her best friend, Henry, calls that her “Flower Power.” One of the great things about art is that everyone can create. All of us have idea gardens like Finley with ideas just waiting to sprout.
WatchPlayRead: This final question from my five-year-old daughter, Finley. She would like to know if in the next book Finley will play any sports. She loves soccer and thinks Finley going to soccer camp would be fun to read!
Jessica Young: I like that idea! I have some other adventures in the works for Finley, but she’s up for trying pretty much anything, and Henry loves soccer, so I wouldn’t rule that out for a future adventure.