Reviewed by Anne Nydam
By JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith. Groundwood Books, 2015. 32 pages. $16.95/hardcover; $14.95/eBook. Recommended for ages 3–adult.
Sidewalk Flowers is a wordless picture book in graphic novel format, with some full-page illustrations and other pages broken up into panels. The illustrations follow a young girl as she walks home through city streets with her father. This is a book about mindfulness and paying attention to the small beauties around us. In many of the pictures, the girl’s red jacket is the only touch of color in a black-and-white city. Here and there, however, are dandelions and other small flowers growing in the cracks and crevices of the city’s concrete, and the girl notices them and begins to collect a bouquet. As she collects her flowers, other touches of color appear: yellow taxi cabs, a woman’s bright dress, colored bottles in a shop window. The father, of course, is busy talking on his cell phone and doesn’t seem to notice his daughter’s discoveries. So far this is a beautiful book, but perhaps nothing new. About halfway through, something interesting happens. The girl encounters a dead sparrow lying on the sidewalk, and leaves a small bundle of flowers on its body. From that point, the colors begin to spread everywhere. For the rest of the walk home, the girl leaves flowers with everyone she meets, and by the time she and her father reach home, the whole world is in color.
What I particularly like about this book is the double message: appreciating everyday beauty is important, but even more important is to reach out and share the beauty with others. As long as the little girl is collecting flowers for herself, there are touches of color here and there in the black-and-white illustrations, but only when she gives her flowers away is the city painted in full color. Another interesting point implicit in the story is that it doesn’t matter whether the generosity is reciprocated, or even noticed. The girl gives flowers not only to the dead bird, but also to a stranger asleep on a bench, and to a neighborhood dog as well as friends and family. It is simply her act of giving that colors the world.
This book might spark discussion about taking the time to appreciate the gifts all around us and also the importance of sharing those gifts—whether or not our sharing seems to make any difference. The pictures have plenty of details for children to examine, while the interesting shadows and points of view make them sophisticated enough to please adults. However, because the individual panel pictures are quite small, this would be a difficult book to share with a group. On the other hand, it’s lovely to share one-on-one or to look over on one’s own. There are many details to savor and many layers to think about and to consider how they relate to our own lives.