As a kid I used to pick Dandelions, purple clover and Queen Anne’s Lace and bring them home to be put in a vase and displayed on the kitchen table. I did not understand the difference between a weed and a flower. It’s all a matter of perspective; one person’s weed is another person’s flower. Perspective and the art of noticing are beautifully explored in this new wordless picture book from Canadians JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith.
Sidewalk Flowers follows a little girl as she walks through the city with her father. While he spends most of his time on his phone, she collects sidewalk flowers and then gives them out to people and animals she meets along the way. In the beginning, only the girl is in colour- wearing a vivid red cloak- along with the flowers she spots in a black and white city full of black and white people. But as she notices things- a patterned dress, a vase, a bird- they too become brightly coloured and by the end of the book the whole world is vivid. Very simple concept, very effectively executed. My heart just about stopped when I saw the image of the flowers left as a memorial for a dead bird.
You can’t throw a stone without hitting a wordless picture book these days. Wordless picture books invite contemplation in a way that other picture books don’t. That isn’t to say the experience is better, but different. How the story is shared becomes a truly personal experience. Do you make a story up as you go through the book with a child? Is it the same or different each time? Do you give the book to a child (or adult) and have her sit silently and experience the book in her own head? There is more room- or at least more space- for imagination.
Some picture books are kinetic and invite laughter and action (The Book With No Pictures, Pete the Cat, The Day The Crayons Quit, Goodnight Already), but this is the perfect example of the opposite kind of book, inviting meditation and encouraging mindfulness. The experience of reading Sidewalk Flowers mirrors the experience of the little girl in the book- taking time to notice things, becoming aware, and delighting in the world around her. Children are better equipped for this sort of awareness, perhaps why it keeps turning up in picture books, not only Sidewalk Flowers but also in Kathy Stinson’s award-winning The Man with the Violin.
Fans of The Farmer and the Clown, Journey, The Gardener, On My Walk, and The Man with the Violin will perhaps best appreciate this lovely tale of a transformative walk. I cannot wait until I can go on my own city walk and marvel at the tenacity of spring and it’s new growth, which with any luck, will be in a few weeks time.
Sidewalk Flowers is available now from Groundwood Books.