Monday, October 22, 2018


Town is by the Sea by Canadian author, Joanne Schwartz and illustrated by Sdyney Smith, is perfect.

It perfectly captures a time and place with its simple, evocative writing. The illustrations also perfectly convey a sense of tranquility in this small community at this time.

The story tells of, what feels to me, to be an average day in the life of a boy living in a 1950s small town in Maritime Canada located close to the sea. We learn that his father is a coal miner who works deep underground, under the sea. It becomes a refrain throughout the story that the boy remembers, time and again that his father works deep below the surface away from the light, the town and the sea.

There’s a rhythm of life that is palpable whether it’s depicted with everyday activities such as waking up, eating or playing on beat-up swings in the playground and going to bed; through nature's sun rising and setting; and work that will connect generations of family. The boy visits his grandfather’s seaside grave and at the end of the book remarks that he too will likely become a coal miner as the other men in this family and community have become.

The illustrations perfectly capture the calmness of this life (maybe there's an element of small town sameness that might be part of what I'm feeling) that I think reflects life for this time period. Subtle earth tones colour the illustrations giving them a sepia wash that contributes to that sense of a time in the past.  I especially love the picture which shows sunlight reflected off the sea water which is almost too bright to look at. This picture was perfectly realized.  The illustrations of life on the topside contrast with the illustrations depicting his father at work in the dark of the coal mine.  I can feel the density of the land and water that bear down on the miners and feel claustrophobic seeing the men bent over in the cramped dark space.

I highly recommend this book for elementary grades. It is especially relevant when studying curriculum about community, family, and Canada.


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