Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Flowers for Sarajevo

Flowers for Sarajevo

John McCutcheon
Illustrator:  Kristy Caldwell 
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Peachtree Publishers, 2017   ISBN: 978-1561459438

Drasko and his father Milo sell flowers in the marketplace in Sarajevo. Milo tells his son that though the people in the marketplace, the Serbs, the Croats, the Muslims, and the Christians, “have plenty to argue about” they all “manage to live side by side” like the flowers in Milo’s stall. Milo always thinks the best of people. He even gives grumpy old Goran one of his prized roses.

Then, suddenly and without warning, everything changes. Civil war breaks out and many men, including Milo, leave to fight. Drasko has to take care of the flower stand on his own, and the other people in the market are unkind to him and force him to set up his stand in “the worst corner of the square.” The one good thing about Drasko’s new location is that he can hear the orchestra practicing in the building behind him.

One day, as the church bells ring at ten o’clock, a mortar lands in the square and hits the bakery where people are lined up to buy bread. Twenty-two people lose their lives on that day and the next morning the square is empty. Then, when the church bells ring at ten o’clock a lone cellist comes of the rehearsal hall. He is carrying his instrument and a folding chair. The man walks through the rubble to the front of the bakery and there he sets up his chair, sits down, and plays a beautiful piece of music. In silence people listen to him play, understanding the language of music that he is sharing with them.

The cellist plays the same piece of music in the square at ten o’clock for a total of twenty-two days, one day for each life that was lost on that fateful day. Every night Drasko says twenty-two prayers for the fallen, and then he says one for his father.

This beautifully written and very moving picture book is based on a true story. On May 27th, 1992, twenty-two people who were standing in a breadline outside a bakery in the city of Sarajevo were killed by mortar fire.  For twenty-two days a cellist in the Sarajevo Opera Orchestra, Vedran Smailovic, played Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor. His playing was an act of defiance and hope, it was a reaction to the ethnic violence that was tearing Yugoslavia apart. It was also an appeal for peace and reconciliation.

At the end of the narrative the author provides the reader with information about the conflict in Yugoslavia, and in an author’s note he tells his readers about how he can came to write this book, and the song, Streets of Sarajevo, that was inspired by the story of The Cellist of Sarajevo. The music and lyrics of the song are provided, and there is a CD included with the book which contains a recording of the author’s song, and a recording of Vedran Smailovic playing Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor.