Have You Ever Seen a Flower? (Part One)
May 4, 2021 § Leave a comment
It’s another special week here on the blog, with a two-part post featuring one of my favorite picture books of the year, destined to become a read-aloud favorite. Award-winning illustrator, Shawn Harris, is making his authorial debut with Have You Ever Seen a Flower? (Ages 3-6), an imaginative, sensory-filled, hue-tastic journey inside flowers, starring an ebullient, neon-haired child. Today, I’m sharing why I love this energetic romp, which celebrates the connection between childhood and nature. Then, on Thursday, I’ll be back with my interview with the mastermind behind it, mister Shawn Harris himself. (I’ll also be running a giveaway on Instagram, so make sure you’re following me!)
As you may remember from previous posts, we are big fans of Shawn Harris, who created the delightfully unique cut-paper illustrations for Mac Barnett’s A Polar Bear in the Snow and, before that, Dave Eggers’ Her Right Foot, a speculative non-fiction picture book about the Statue of Liberty that’s still a favorite of my son. With Have You Ever Seen a Flower?, Shawn not only tries his hand at writing, but he trades cut-paper collage for stencils and colored pencils (seven-in-one colored pencils, to be precise). He’ll talk more about his inspiration and process in our interview, but suffice it to say that this departure makes him quite the creative chameleon, a true force to be reckoned with in picture book creation.
Have You Ever Seen a Flower? also proves that the best picture books are often a little trippy. (Think about greats like Maurice Sendak, Ruth Krauss, and James Marshall.) With a psychedelic intensity, Shawn plays with perspective, color, and language to blur the line between reality and fantasy, fusing his character with the vibrant nature around her and reminding us how much fun it is to see the world through the eyes of a child brimming with wonder and possibility.
It’s impossible to discuss this book without first talking about its cover. THIS COVER! (Is it any wonder Corinna Luyken calls it a “sister” book to her latest, The Tree in Me, which also invokes that eye-popping neon pink?) So much of what makes this book an artistic triumph is encapsulated in this cover, from the electric palette to the use of negative space to draw the eye. Even the flowers themselves—roughly drawn lines encased in clean geometric outlines—create a tension that buzzes with anticipation.
For such a colorful cover, the story actually begins with the grey scale of a cityscape, from which our protagonist flees by car with her little white dog. Presumably, there’s an adult driving the car, though we never see one. The only “grown-up” in this child-centric story comes in the voice of the second-person narrator, who speaks at once to the child in the story and to us readers along for the ride.
Once outside the city, the scenery explodes with color. The girl bounds through fields of flowers, before falling to her knees and bringing her face down to the level of the petals. The narrator draws out the opening question across multiple pages: “Have you ever seen a flower? I mean really…seen a flower?”
“Seeing” a flower, we quickly discover, is about using more than your eyes. It’s about inhaling deeply with your nose. It’s about caressing petals. It’s about using every sense you have to both discover and imagine.
It would have been easy to write this book literally (or with the figurative language one might expect of the subject). But that’s not Shawn Harris. And that’s not kids. So, when Shawn asks his reader to breathe in the scent of a flower and think about what they see, he prods them with playful images, like “Raindrops made of honey? The knees of bumblebees? A fancy lady? Dancing babies at the royal jelly jubilee?” The book’s language is as delicious as the flowers he’s conjuring.
Might you shout at a flower and listen for an echo? Or wander down “between its golden columns and into its corridors” to meet a “tiny queen”?
Like Corinna Luyken did with The Tree in Me, Shawn Harris invites a connection between the child and the nature around them. “Do a flower petal’s veins feel like the veins beneath your skin?” A child’s blood, we’re reminded, is piercingly red, not unlike the bold hues of a flower.
Invoking the language of mindfulness across the next few spreads, Shawn calls upon us to find our own stem, feel our own roots. “Do you feel yourself growing? Do you feel yourself stretching toward the sun, ready to burst…and bloom?”
I won’t spoil the ending, but it comes full circle to a detail readers may have noticed in the opening spread—and with it, a reminder that we carry a life force inside us, always. We have the power to make beauty wherever we are.
Be sure to pop back on Thursday for my interview with Shawn Harris, where we talk more about the book, his artistic process, some upcoming projects, and books he hopes every child will read.
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Review copy from Chronicle Books. All opinions are my own. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases through the links above, although I prefer we also shop local and support our communities when we can.