age range: middle grade
genre: contemporary fiction
topic: Alzheimer’s disease
“[Delia’s] frustration, fear and sense of loss will be readily recognizable to others who have experienced dementia in a loved one, and her story may provide some guidance on how to move down that rocky path toward acceptance and letting go. …What do flowers remember? The stories of the people who cared for them, of course, as Wiersbitzky’s sensitive novel compassionately conveys.” – Kirkus Reviews
Please tell us about your book.
In What Flowers Remember, due to a shared love of flowers and gardening, Delia and her elderly neighbor Old Red Clancy dream up a seed- and flower-selling business. The two make quite a pair. He has the know-how and she has the get-up-and-go. But something is happening to Old Red. And the doctors say he can’t be cured. He’s forgetting places and names and getting cranky for no reason. As his condition worsens, Delia takes it upon herself to save as many memories as she can. Her mission is to gather Old Red’s stories so that no one will forget, and she corrals everybody in town to help.
What Flowers Remember is a story of love and loss, of a young girl coming to understand that even when people die, they live on in our minds, our hearts, and our stories.
What inspired you to write this story?
I spent my childhood summers with my grandparents in a small town in West Virginia, not totally unlike the fictional town of Tucker’s Ferry. As a result, my grandparents became like second parents. When I was in my twenties, my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I hoped and prayed that he wouldn’t forget me. But of course, the disease doesn’t work that way, and I was forgotten along with everyone else he loved. The moment I realized he no longer knew who I was is something I will never forget. It broke my heart. And it was that nugget which inspired this story.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
I did research on Alzheimer’s as I wrote the novel. The Alzheimer’s Association has a wealth of information. While I knew what my grandfather experienced, I didn’t know if that was typical or if there were other signs and symptoms which might be worth including to make it more accurate. Most people only think of Alzheimer’s as losing memories, but it can often cause changes in mood, and even result in a loss of smell. I included both of those in the book.
Alzheimer’s isn’t typically a disease associated with children. Why include this as a topic in a middle-grade novel?
I never set out to write a book “about Alzheimer’s”. I wanted to write a story that spoke to my own truth, about how it feels to be forgotten by someone you love. Within the context of fiction, I imagined what a young girl might do, and what an entire town might do, if they felt they could, in some way, prevent memories from being forgotten.
The reality is that according to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors will suffer from some type of dementia. One in three. That is an astounding number. It also means that there are many children who will be impacted by the disease. Whether it is grandparents or parents, or someone else they know and love. I hope the story will help kids (and adults) who are experiencing or have experienced Alzheimer’s in some way.
*Note: A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Alzheimer’s Association.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
There are many topics in the book a teacher could explore:
Memories. Every family has favorite memories. Memories that are passed down from generation to generation. What memories do families keep alive? How? What memories would students never want to forget? Project ideas: Create a memory board. Interview family or friends for favorite memories.
Flowers. Flowers have different meanings and many, like the pansies noted in the book, have different folk tales associated with them. What flowers do students like most? What stories or meanings are linked to them? Project idea: Pick a flower and explain how its meaning links to your own life.
Teaching and Learning. Delia is a sort of gardening apprentice to Old Red. Everyone has a skill they can teach someone else. Project idea: Have each student pick something they’re good at and teach the rest of the class how to do it.
Handling Conflict. Delia and her friend Mae meet up with a local bully at their school festival. Discussion topic: Assess how Delia handled her situation and explore how they have handled their own situations. What might they do in specific circumstances?
You can connect with author Shannon Wiersbitzky here: