February 21, 2015 Groundwood Books

Sidewalk Flowers – Writing a Story Without Words

JonArno Lawson is the author of numerous books for children and adults, including Enjoy It While It Hurts, Down in the Bottom of the Bottom of the Box, and Think Again. He is a four-time winner of the Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Children’s Poetry. He lives in Toronto with his wife and three children. We asked him to share the story behind his new wordless picture book, Sidewalk Flowers.

Groundwood Logos Spine 

The storyline of Sidewalk Flowers evolved directly out of a walk I took with my daughter, Sophie, from her art class near the corner of Bathurst and Dupont, to our house on Arlington. I can even tell you the date of the walk – June 18th, 2008.

Sophie was seven at the time. My son, JoJo, was two days old, and my middle son, Ashey, was four. My wife, Amy, was home with Ashey and JoJo, and I wanted to get back quickly – I looked for a cab, but couldn’t get one to stop. I was rushing (it’s an hour’s walk), not paying close attention to Sophie or what she was doing. Bathurst Street looked grey and ugly – I was full of worry, not really seeing the world around me.

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Suddenly I noticed that Sophie was gathering flowers – the tiny little flowers that poke up through cement cracks – things like pineapple weed, dandelion, clover and vetch, and she was singing. When we got home she decorated JoJo’s hat with some of the flowers, gave some to Ashey, some to Amy, and then she went off and did something else. Ashey was even playing outside with snails when we got home (as in the book!).

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It seemed symbolic to me – Sophie finding colour in the grey world, and then giving away what she’d found – and she didn’t seem to be conscious of what she was doing at all, which also seemed important. I realized it would make a beautiful book – without any words, with bits of colour building through a black, white and grey world – I could picture it, but wasn’t capable of capturing it in pictures. The editorial genius of Sheila Barry and the illustrative genius Sydney Smith were both required to make it what it is now.

How to Write a Story Without Words

JonArno Lawson is a writer, but he imagined Sidewalk Flowers as a wordless picture book. So how did he write a story without words? Here are some pictures of his original manuscript. Sydney Smith used JonArno’s notes and storyboard, and photos and sketches from his own walks around Toronto to bring Sidewalk Flowers to life.

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