PPBF – Flowers for Sarajevo

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:

FlowersforSarajevo_mainTitle: 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!

13 responses to “PPBF – Flowers for Sarajevo

  1. What a difficult but beautiful story of resilience to share with children in an age appropriate manner. I like how the author draws children into the story and points out the goodness of humanity in the world during trying times.

  2. I would love to see this used in classrooms around the world. So many children actually experience these sorts of traumas firsthand and I believe books like this are important for them but also for those children whose lives may be more fortunate. Lots of great activities to go with this one.

  3. Great choice and definitely a book that is needed so much (unfortunately) right now.

  4. I’ve read this lovely book. So moving and well told. I’ve suggested it to our school librarian.

  5. Thanks for including your insightful note about craft. I am struggling to write a story inspired by real (harrowing) events, and I think this moving story might be an excellent mentor text for me. I like that McCutcheon invented a child narrator and also that the focus of the story is on finding solace through art (music) and on spreading beauty.

    • Gabi, so happy that you found the craft insights helpful. I think this is a wonderful mentor text for writing about tough but true events. Hope the writing goes well!

  6. Oh my! I just had to come and read your review of this book. I must see if my library has it. As you may or may not know I have just returned from a trip to Europe which took me through Croatia and Bosnia. I cried during a tour of Sarajevo city and your review brought a lump in my throat remembering what I saw. I hope soon to post about my trip on my blog. This sounds like such an amazing story and a great mentor text for historical fiction told through a child’s eyes bringing compassion, beauty, and healing to such tragedy. Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. I was looking for some resilience story to share with my kids. Thanks to your insightful review on the book. I will take note of this book.

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