Children notice the littlest details. They are drawn to sparks of color. They see their surroundings with their hearts.
As a parent or educator you have undoubtedly received a bouquet of spring dandelions lovingly picked and presented with pride. Or maybe you were shyly handed a fresh bunch of daisies or black-eyed susans. You really hoped they were found in a field rather than someone's garden.
Living in a small community or out in the country, those floral gems are easy to notice. If you live in a city where green has been replaced with gray, it's more difficult unless you are a child. Sidewalk Flowers (Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press, March 17, 2015) written by JonArno Lawson without words with illustrations by Sydney Smith is a journey of receiving and giving, and of kindness and unconditional love.
The story opens with a little girl clothed in a red hooded jacket walking hand in hand with her father down a city street. As he walks along with groceries in his other hand, she is looking up and down and to the left and to the right, not missing anyone or anything. She spies a dandelion plant growing from a crack in the sidewalk next to a post.
At this point her dad is talking on his cell phone. She walks over to the plant, picks a single flower and smells the sunshiny odor. She continues to find these brave colorful weeds that have found a way to grow through crevasses in walls along a bridge or neglected cement embankments.
Although he waits for her, he seems to be more engaged in his phone conversation than her poesy picking. As the business part of town turns to a more residential area, the two start to walk through a park. In the center of the path, she sees a dead bird. In an act of compassion, flowers are left on top of the bird.
As the father and daughter continue home, unsuspecting others may find delicate surprises left in the wake of this strolling child. Acts of generosity without thought come from a capacious soul. The tiniest things, bright hues and open observations can lead to gifts for everyone.
From a personal experience JonArno Lawson conceived the idea for this book. His perceptions form not only the outing of the father and child but the course readers will follow as they reflect on the story. The little girl does see beauty in the wildflowers and weeds but she decides to pass it along to complete strangers, to members of her family and to animals she encounters. From her we learn to look at our world with gratitude and without judgment.
Rendered in pen and ink and watercolor, with digital editing the illustrations of Sydney Smith portray a gentle elegance. The image on the front of the book case draws you to the characters with the red coat and the tiny bit of color in the flowers in contrast to the black and white, the parent and child walking while holding hands and the look of affection on the father's face. It's a prelude to wonder.
Framed by fine black lines in a square we see the little girl walking at dusk on the back, a slight smile on her face as she looks at a flower in her hand. The opening and closing endpapers are patterned in delicate flowers, birds and butterflies. They are identical except for an addition on the closing endpapers, an extension of the story. On the verso songbirds are eating tiny seeds. Beneath the title common wildflowers are placed in a row.
The presentation of the story in a blend of double page, single page and framed paneled pictures is brilliant. It allows our point of view to change with that of the little girl. Her red hooded jacket defines her as the focus pointing us to those splashes of color, the flowers, she notices. For more emotional impact other colors are introduced at appropriate points; in front of the fruit stand, the woman at the bus stop, the glass bottles in the store, the bird with the flowers and the home of the father and little girl. Smith's use of shadow and light amplifies the atmosphere. Attention to detail will have readers pausing and turning back to look at particular scenes over and over.
Two of my favorite illustrations are on a single page. They are placed one over the other horizontally. The father is walking along looking straight ahead on the park path. His daughter notices a man sleeping on a bench. She drops her father's hand to stick flowers into the man's shoes.
Sidewalk Flowers written by JonArno Lawson with illustrations by Sydney Smith is enchanting in every respect. It's bookmanship at its best; the book case, endpapers, interior illustrations, the matte-finished paper and a truly beautiful story. This is one of those stories which will prompt other stories. It connects us all.
To learn more about Sydney Smith and his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith were interviewed by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Kirkus. Please follow the link to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast to access this interview, artwork and links to two other great articles, one an interview of JonArno Lawson about this book. More artwork can be found at Anansi. At Groundwood we get more of the story behind the story. Enjoy the book trailer.