As natural and man-made disasters continue to dominate the news, it’s difficult to remain hopeful. But today’s Perfect Picture Book shows that one act of kindness and beauty can spread, one person at a time:
Title: Flowers for Sarajevo
Written By: John McCutcheon
Illustrated By: Kristy Caldwell
Publisher/date: Peachtree Publishers/2017
Suitable for Ages: 7-10
Themes/Topics: historical fiction, music, Sarajevo, Bosnian War, beauty, healing
See that man in the floppy hat? That’s Milo. He’s my father. He can sniff out the best roses in all of Sarajevo. Many kinds of people come together here in our marketplace, looking for spices, meats, and bread. Sometimes they buy, sometimes they don’t. But almost everyone leaves with flowers. Milo’s flowers.
Brief Synopsis: Drasko, the son of a flower seller, experiences war firsthand in Sarajevo when a bomb detonates near the local bakery. He also experiences the solace of music when a noted musician plays a daily tribute to those whose lives were lost. Moved by the music, Drasko discovers a way to spread beauty himself in his war-ravaged city.
Links to Resources:
- Listen to the CD that accompanies the book; how does the music make you feel?
- A Discussion Guide is available from Peachtree;
- Learn about Bosnia and Herzegovina and its capital city, Sarajevo;
- How do you spread kindness and beauty? Some ideas to try include sharing artwork, homemade greeting cards or music with elderly or ill neighbors, family members or friends.
Why I Like this Book:
War is never an easy topic to address in picture books, but Flowers for Sarajevo does so in a way that empowers rather than traumatizes children. Rather than focusing on the bakery bombing and senseless killing, McCutcheon focuses on the actions afterwards that spread hope and beauty from one person to the next. By doing so, he shows readers how they can bring about positive change, whether after a personal or larger manmade or natural disaster.
Caldwell utilizes a muted palate and faded backgrounds, except for splashes of color on the flowers that draw readers’ attention to them.
A Note about Craft:
In an Author’s Note, McCutcheon, a storyteller and Grammy-winning musician, explains that he first learned about the cellist memorialized in Flowers for Sarajevo in a New York Times article. McCutcheon then wrote a song about Vèdran Smailovic, the musician, which is included in the book.
Rather than writing the story as non-fiction from an adult’s point of view, McCutcheon invented a child narrator, Drasko, who experienced Smailovic’s daily concerts and, moved by the music, spread beauty, too. By veering from the factual article and fictionalizing the story, McCutcheon renders it more kid-relatable.
McCutcheon further engages the reader by speaking directly to her or him. The story opens, “See that man…” The reader is thus on location with Drasko, and invited, in a way, to follow Drasko, his father, and the cellist to do her or his “own small part” to make the world beautiful.
In addition to the Author’s Note, back matter includes information about the Balkan peninsula and the Bosnian war, with further reading; the text and music for John McCutcheon’s song, Streets of Sarajevo, a short biography of cellist, Smailovic, and a CD.
Flowers for Sarajevo is a Parents Choice Gold Award winner.
Visit John McCutcheon’s website here. Visit Kristy Caldwell’s website here.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!