A Picture Book which truly Enlightens | Review of “Town Is by the Sea.” Written by Joanne Schwartz and Illustrated by Sydney Smith (2017) Groundwood Books

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The beauty of any book occurs when it documents a common theme to a reader while being set in an unique locale. A reader empathizes with the central character while learning about the location, which is simply why many of us enjoy reading and looking at books. And that is exactly what occurs when one looks at Town Is by the Sea written by Joanne Schwartz and illustrated by Sydney Smith.

When I wake up, it goes like this –

first I hear the seagulls, then I hear a dog barking,

a car goes by on the shore road, someone slams a

door and yells good morning.

And along the road, lupine and Queen Anne’s lace

rustle in the wind.

First thing I see when I look

out the window is the sea.

And I know my father is already deep

down under that sea, digging for coal.

I love the feeling this perfect mix of illustrations and words give this book. The story deals with a young boy going through his busy day on a coastal village yet mindful of his father’s hard work digging for coal deep under the sea. Schwartz’s words are poetic and lyrical while Smith’s illustrations are profound yet simple. Flipping through this book is an enlightening experience for any reader of any age.

 

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“From my house, I can see the sea.” Illustration by Sydney Smith

This is a work that is simply well-crafted. It, no doubt, took time, care and planning to bring this volume together. And it works well. It enlightens while it simply engages a reader. Worthy of anybody’s few moments in a quiet corner to reflect over.

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“My father is a miner and he works under the sea, deep down in the coal mines.” Illustration by Sydney Smith

While this book may take place in a different time and place for many of us, it helps us understand a small section of the human condition a bit better. We relate to the little boy’s experience but we gain a simple understanding of what his father’s role was at that time. Enlightenment comes easy with this book.

Author’s Note

If you were a boy in the mining towns of Cape Breton – or, indeed, a child in any mining town in the world – during the late 1800s and early 1900s, you might well have faced the prospect of going to work in the mines at the young age of nine or ten, enduring twelve-hour days in the harsh, dangerous and dark reality underground. Decades later, the life of these towns still revolved around the mines. Even into the 1950s, around the time when this story takes place, boys of high-school age, carrying on the traditions of their fathers and grandfathers, continued to see their future working in the mines.

This was the legacy of a mining town.

Town Is by the Sea is a great example of a great piece of literature, even though it is a ‘picture book.’ Joanne Schwartz’s words blend well together with Sydney Smith’s illustration to tell a unique story.

*****

Link to Groundwood Books/House of Anansi’s website for Town Is by the Sea.

Link to Sydney Smith’s tumblr “Sketchbook”

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