(I received an e-ARC of Flowers for Sarajevo from the publisher and NetGalley for review consideration.)
When you head to the library or bookstore this weekend with the kiddos, keep an eye out for Flowers for Sarajevo by John McCutcheon and illustrated by Kristy Caldwell. And if you can’t find it there, go ahead and buy it on Amazon. (Spoiler Alert: I loved this book.)
Drasko sells flowers with his father, Milo, in the Sarajevo marketplace. Milo is kind even to the unlikable vendor next to them, giving him a free flower. Drakso finds this strange and does not understand the gesture.
When his dad goes to war, Drasko becomes responsible for the flowers. He also becomes a witness to a deadly mortar attack on the bakery in the square. The next day, at ten o’clock, the stillness of the square is interrupted by a lone cellist from the Sarajevo Opera Orchestra walking through the debris and rubble to sit in front of the devastated landscape. He plays as onlookers gather. Each day for twenty-two days, the number of victims, the cellist repeats his lone performance. From the cellist’s example Drasko starts to understand the mystery of his father’s kindnesses, that the smallest act of beauty can carry powerfully healing significance. And so Drasko too commits to finding ways of bringing beauty back to Sarajevo – even in giving a flower to the unlikable vendor.
Flowers for Sarajevo is stunning. As a picture book for grade school-age children it is appropriate without trivializing and shocking without sensationalizing. Telling it from the perspective of a child enhances the book’s ability to develop empathy in young readers. The Author’s Note and other informational pieces at the back are worth reading as well about the real cellist, Verdrun Smailovic, who inspired the story. I know the year is young, but I feel confident in saying this will be one of my favorite releases from 2017.