New children’s book asks readers to use their imagination

Author JonArno Lawson and illustrator Sydney Smith say the meaning in their wordless picture book Sidewalk Flowers is up to the reader’s imagination.

Award-winning poet JonArno Lawson wrote the wordless picture book Sidewalk Flowers as an ode to the importance of small things, small people, and small gestures—but, more importantly, for readers to create their own interpretation of the story.

Lawson and Sydney Smith, the illustrator of Sidewalk Flowers, signed copies of their book for fans of all ages at the book launch on Saturday at the Halifax Central Library. Although the book is for ages four to seven, many adults attended the launch with or without children.

Left: Smith, Right: Lawson, sign the books of fans.
Left: Smith, Right: Lawson, sign the books of fans. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

Lawson based the book on a walk he took with his daughter Sophie in June 2008. The story follows a young girl in a red hoodie collecting wildflowers on a walk she takes with her distracted father.

Lawson said he didn’t write the book to specifically convey a lesson rather to allow children and adults to interpret the story in their own way.

“I still think adults can get something out of this…if you’re working with kids it lets the kids tell the story. If you’re showing it to them, it’s them that get to do the talking which is sort of nice,” said Lawson.

Smith said children’s books don’t need lessons or morals. He calls Sidewalk Flowers “an interpretation.”

“It was more of witnessing the beautiful nature of children and appreciating it without being told this is what you have to do,” said Smith.

A crowd gathers to support the launch of picture book Sidewalk Flowers. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)
A crowd gathers to support the launch of picture book Sidewalk Flowers. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

This is the first project Smith and Lawson have worked on together. While working on Sidewalk Flowers they collaborated without meeting in person. Smith used Lawson’s notes, storyboard, photos, sketches and manuscript in order to illustrate the book.

“I took the story he had written up in the script and did my hardest to try to live up to his beautiful words,” said Smith.

Smith said he feels it’s better for writers and illustrators to work apart. He said this separation allows for the illustrator to focus on their vision and sometimes publishers prefer that.

Lawson and Smith sign the books of fans. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

Andrea MacNevin, a friend of Smith, came to the launch to support him. She too believes the book is important for all ages.

“I think it’s good for kids and adults to read a book with no words, because you can kind of make up your own story,” said MacNevin.

“It’s a touching book.”

Sidewalk Flowers is published by Groundwood Books and is now available at Woozles Children’s Bookstore. It can also be purchased digitally through House of Anansi Press.