Sidewalk Flowers was conceived by Jon Arno Lawson and beautifully illustrated by Sydney Smith. This picture book is a wordless wonder. A young girl dressed in a red is walking along the busy sidewalks with her distracted father.
The young girl is curious. While those around her are focused on where they are going, she notices the smallest of details. She suddenly she discovers two small yellow dandelions growing in between the cracks of the sidewalk and so she picks them. As they continue walking together she picks many different types of weeds and wildflowers, creating a beautiful bouquet in her hands. On their way through the park, the father and daughter pass a dead bird. She is compelled to leave some flowers to honor the small creature. Then slowly, she gives away the rest of the flowers. From a man sleeping on a bench to a neighborhood dog.
Sydney Smith’s pen and ink illustrations are composed primarily of white, black and grays. At first the girl’s jacket and the flowers are simple splashes of color, but each time she gives her flowers away, more color is added to the world around her. The story is told using a series of panels with varied perspectives.
Sidewalk Flowers is a stunning book that invites the reader on a journey along with a humble and empathetic protagonist. We are encouraged to slow down and notice our surroundings. We are inspired to be intentional in our actions and kind to others.
This picture book is perfect readers ages 3-10. Younger readers will enjoy looking at the beautiful illustrations and talking about what is happening in the story. Older readers can explore the more complex social issues that arise across the pages as well as the author and illustrator’s craft moves. What I love about wordless books like Sidewalk Flowers is that they are accessible to all learners.
When I was a graduate school student, one of our assignments was to read and log 50 children’s books over the course of the semester. The purpose of this assignment was to better familiarize ourselves with books for kids, including picture and chapter books. Each weekend I would take a walk over to our local public library and checkout a stack of books to look over at home. There are many different ways I picked out books. Some books were my own childhood favorites. Others were new titles by familiar authors. I looked at books featured by the librarians. And often times I pick books that have interesting titles. For example…
You Can’t Take a Balloon Into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weltzman and Robin Preiss Glasser. When it came time to read, review and log this book, I opened it up to discover rich illustrations, but no words! I flipped through the pages and realized that even without text I could tell exactly what was going on through the vivid, detailed pictures. I was immediately hooked. You Can’t Take a Balloon Into the Metropolitan Museum is great for kindergarten through second grade classrooms.
In the years since graduate school, I have come across more and more wordless books. The Journey trilogy by Aaron Becker is one that I simply cannot get enough of. All the adventure and action is conveyed through the illustrations as a lonely young girl travels to a fantasy world time and time again. Equipped only with a marker, she brilliantly solves problem and defeats the evil forces she encounters. This trilogy is great for use in second to fifth grade classrooms.
(For a neat article about how Aaron Becker came to write wordless books, check out this article.)
Out of the Blue by Alison Jay is another amazing wordless book about life where the sea and the beach meet. A young boy, who lives in a lighthouse, enjoys spending his time beachcombing with his friend. The illustrations shows people on the beach engaged in different activities, from flying a kite to rafting. Suddenly a storm approaches and one by one the characters go home. In the morning, they discover an octopus on the beach, ensnared in a fishing net. This is a lovely story about a community coming together to rescue an at-first intimidating, but ultimately innocent creature. This book provides an awesome springboard for a conversation about how people interact with nature and environmental responsibility. Out of the Blue is a great book to explore in pre-k to first grade classrooms.
Click here to purchase a copy of You Can’t Take a Balloon into The Metropolitan Museum, Journey, and Out of the Blue (affiliate links).