Sidewalk Flowers by Jon Arno Lawson and Sydney Smith perfectly captures the intense level of observation that can occupy a child once something has caught their attention.
This wordless, paneled picture book shows us the walk home for a little girl and her preoccupied father, after picking up groceries at the store. The little girl wears a red coat which ‘pops’ her out of the black-and-white landscape of her urban neighborhood. A bright dash of yellow dandelions catches her eye and starts her bouquet of wildflowers that she collects as she goes along.
Walking through a park she notices a dead bird in the middle of the walk. She leaves a few of her flowers with the bird. She leaves a spray of lilacs or lupines by a homeless man sleeping on a park bench. As she shares her floral gifts with those she meets, the city landscape starts to take on more colour, too. After leaving flowers with the bird, the grass in the park changes from grey to green. As she gets closer to home, people and houses also take on more colour. She leaves flowers in her mother’s hair as she hugs her, and in that of her younger siblings. Everything touched is transformed.
The close observation she does and the empathy she has for everything around her is effortlessly embodied in the illustrations. The winsome bouquet that she gathers and again disperses, reflects the girl’s kindness and the overall gentle nature of this slice-of-life story. The end pages are beautifully illustrated with a scattering of these wild, city flowers.
It reminds me a little of Bob Graham’s How to Heal a Broken Wing in which a little boy is the only one in a very busy, bustling city to notice a small injured bird in the middle of the sidewalk. He follows his impulse to rescue the bird and nurse it back to health.
Both books work well for the primary grades.