Town is by the Sea
Walker Books (5+)
This beautifully understated and haunting story brings a piece of mining history to life. A young boy spends an idyllic summer day in his small hometown – he heads to the playground with his friends, has lunch and goes to the shops for his mother. In the afternoon he visits his grandfather’s grave and remembers; but his thoughts continually return to his father, hard at work digging for coal under the sea…
“It goes like this…” Smith’s stunning illustrations bring to life a bygone era and what it would have been like in a Cape Breton mining town in the 1950’s. Broad, black lines, washes of colour and subtle use of shadow create a sense of movement. The oppressive darkness of the mines is contrasted with the vastness of the light-dappled sea and the calm of the bay where the boy tends his grandfather’s grave. Extensive use of double-paged spreads enhances this, while the use of smaller panels in the domestic scenes creates a sense of warmth, intimacy and anticipation of the father’s safe return. The closeness of family life and the beauty and power of the Nova Scotia landscape are vividly rendered on each page, enhancing Schwartz’s narrative. Contrasting darkness and confined space with freedom and light above ground, these pictures linger in the mind.
Sydney Smith has illustrated multiple children’s books, including The White Cat and the Monk and the Footpath Flowers, which was a New York Times Children’s Book of the Year, a winner of the Governor General Award for Illustration and shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2016. He lives in Toronto, Canada.