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Friday, September 25, 2015

Sidewalk Flowers, written by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith. Groundwood, 2015. $16.95 ages 4 and up

"A little girl collects
flowers while on a walk
with her distracted father.
Each flower becomes a
gift, and whether the gift
is noticed or ignored,
both giver and recipient
are transformed by the

No words are  needed to tell the brilliant story of a little girl and her father. We notice her right away. She is wearing a red hooded jacket. Her father is holding her hand as they walk. It is evident that she is inquisitive and observant. She wanders beside her dad, but her attention is directed to all that is going on around her - a tattooed arm, the woman in a taxi, a pigeon on the sidewalk. Her father is talking on his cell phone and paying little attention to his surroundings.

Beside a parked bicycle she notices a patch of dandelions and picks them. As they stroll, she continues to pick the flowers that she finds in spots along the way. Her bouquet is growing. Dad always patiently waits when she stops. As they walk down a park path, she notices a dead bird on the sidewalk. She stops. As she runs to catch up to her father, we see that she has left some flowers on the bird's still body. She does the same for a man sleeping on a park bench, for a leashed dog, her mother upon her happy return home, on her siblings who are in the back yard, and finally, tucked behind her own ear as she wanders the backyard, aware of the beauty to be found there. We never see her leave the flowers. We are only privy to the results of her sharing.

Poet JonArno Lawson shared his idea for this lovely, thoughtful story in a series of sketches. Sydney Smith was left to interpret them with amazing skill. As the two walk their way through a virtually colorless urban landscape, our attention is given the little one whose red hoodie draws our eyes and keeps our attention on what she is doing. There are only splashes of color but for the flowers she picks and the odd little detail -the fruit stand, the yellow cabs, a woman's dress, glass bottles in a window,  - until she begins placing her flowers where they are most needed. Color returns to her world as they make their way home.

I have often said that the very best picture books are those created when the text and art are a perfect complement to each other. In this book, although there are no words, we are aware of the poetry in the author's heart as he imagines his tale,  and it is brought to glorious life in the hands of this astute artist.

Impressive and unforgettable!


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