Town Is by the Sea


‘It goes like this- house, road, grassy cliff, sea‘. The boy takes us through his day,  his town, from his first early morning glimpse of the sea, to its presence as he shops for his mother. Meanwhile, he reminds us of his father, ‘deep down digging under that sea, digging for coal.’

This is a 1950’s Canadian mining town, where ‘Town Is by the Sea.’ There is certainty in the town, the sea, and the constancy of the industry. We feel the boy’s sense of place, legacy and knowledge of his future.

Sydney Smith’s coal struck pictures are evocative of a beloved past and a secure future. The tempting white horses of the sea- ‘the sea is sparkling‘- contrast with the black depths of the boy’s father, ‘digging down under that sea‘. Wide outdoor scenic landscapes highlight the difference between the town and the boy’s father’s mine, through coal faced reality of short distance pictures, heavy outlines, repetition and small frames.The text of ‘Town Is by the Sea‘ offers different experiences too, as in repetition, when the boy confirms his father’s day, against the dreaminess of the scenic landscape, the ‘whooshing back and forth of the waves‘.

Town Is by the Sea‘ is a glorious book highly deserving of its success in America and Britain. It merits a place on every bookshelf.

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Town Is by the Sea

Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith

(Walker Books)

From my house, I can see the sea.’ We journey with the boy, through his 1950’s mining town. First morning glimpse, to shops and home, while ‘deep down under the sea his father is digging for coal’. ‘Town Is by the Sea’ is a magnificent book, part history, landscape and social commentary.

Winner of the 2018 Kate Greenaway Medal                         New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book


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