Tag Archives: Town Is by the Sea

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.

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

Link to Sydney Smith’s tumblr “Sketchbook”

“Everyone shares the same type of moments through time. Looking at your own reflection in a puddle, looking at dust in a beam of sunlight, hearing the wind in the trees. Putting poetic details of personal yet universal moments in a story makes it relatable no matter how foreign the setting is. Boiled down it is a story about a human, beautiful and complicated.”| Q&A with Illustrator Sydney Smith

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Sydney Smith is a very busy illustrator and a very dedicated one. Since the release of “Sidewalk Flowers” a few years ago, he has enchanted book-fans young and young-at-heart with his work. Now in 2017, he has a couple of new releases coming out and he took a few moments to answer a few questions for me about those works.
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1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline for “Town Is by the Sea?”

“Town Is by the Sea” is a picture book written by Joanne Schwartz, published by Groundwood Books and illustrated by me!  The story is a day in the life of a boy who lives in a mining town by the sea. As he describes his day he reflects on the sea and his father who is working below it in the mine. There is a beautiful rhythm to Joanne’s text and there is plenty of room for the illustrations to play. 

2) Am I right in assuming that you hailing from Nova Scotia that working on this book would have a special meaning for you?

Both Joanne and I come from Nova Scotia. I have been wanting to work on something about home for a while, especially since moving to Toronto. I miss so much about the east coast and this book gave me the opportunity go back and bask in all of the things that make my home so unique and special.
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“From my house, I can see the sea” Illustration by Sydney Smith for “Town Is by the Sea” (2017 Groundwood Books.) Image provided by him.

3) How long did it take you to create the illustrations for “Town Is by the Sea?” How did you get involved in illustrating it?

 
Sheila Barry, the wonderful editor from Groundwood Books brought the story to my attention two years ago. I had a lot on my plate at the time but I was so excited about the project that I started thinking about it far in advance of working on it. My process is never efficient and I can get lost down rabbit holes so I ended up with a lot of versions of each image. If I felt like something wasn’t working so I wouldn’t sleep until I took another swing at it. 

4) I know many people living here in Ontario who have originated from Atlantic Canada are always eager to explain to their children what life is like on the eastern region of the country. Is that something you are hoping this book will aid in doing?

What I like about this story is that you could say it’s about growing up in the late ’50’s in a mining town in Cape Breton but you could also say its just about being young. The writing captures this and I wanted the illustrations to do the same thing. Relatively few people know what its like to grow up in a mining town but if you can show personal and human moments that we all share than it doesn’t matter where or when the story takes place. Everyone shares the same type of moments through time. Looking at your own reflection in a puddle, looking at dust in a beam of sunlight, hearing the wind in the trees. Putting poetic details of personal yet universal moments in a story makes it relatable no matter how foreign the setting is. Boiled down it is a story about a human, beautiful and complicated.  
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“Far out at sea, the waves have white tips” Illustration from “Town is by the Sea”(Groundwood Books 2017) by Sydney Smith. Image is provided by him.

5) “Sidewalk Flowers” was a very popular book in my circle of readers. Are there any noticeable similarities/differences you found on working on the two books?

I think there are a lot of similarities. There is a depth to the main character. A quietness and a seriousness. This book is kind of heavier than “Sidewalk Flowers.” I showed the story to a group at a workshop recently and when I finished there was a moment of silence. I hope just meant that there was a lot to take in.

6) I know it is a bit of time before the release of “Town Is by the Sea” but is there a book tour being planned for it?

There is a book launch planned for mid-March in Halifax and there will also be a release in Toronto around the same time. I’d be happy to go anywhere people are interested with this book. I’m really excited to share it.
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“My father is a miner and he works under the sea, deep down in the coal mines” from “Town is by the Sea” (2017 Groundwood Books) Illustrated by Sydney Smith. Image is provided by him.

7) You mention in my last Q&A with you some unease with the use of social-media ( “There are a lot of people (in the children’s book universe) that just want beautiful books for everyone.” | Q&A with Illustrator Sydney Smith ) Do you still feel that way? Are you comfortable with fans of your work using social-media to contact you?

 

8) You have been busy with a few items since our last conversation. Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I am finishing up illustrating my last book before I take some time to focus on some of my own projects that have been waiting patiently for the past few years. I can’t really say too much about those personal projects because they are still being chiseled and shaped. But I am excited. I love collaborating with other people, and I’m sure I will work with other writers again soon but i need to see this through right now.
 
The book I am finishing up is called “Smoot,” written by Michelle Cuervas, published by Dial Books and its a very fun story about a boy and his shadow, Smoot, who decides to separate and have an adventure of his own. I really like this story and working with Lauri Hornik and Lily Malcolm from Dial is such a pleasure. (Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for “Smoot”)
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