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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Town Is by the Sea, written by Joanne Schwartz and illustrated by Sydney Smith. Groundwood, 2017. $22.95 ages 5 and up

"Far out to sea, the waves have white tips. And deep down under the sea, my father is digging for coal. When I get home for lunch, it goes like this - my mother has a baloney sandwich on the table and a tall glass ... "

This is a book you will not soon forget! Set in Nova Scotia in the 1950s, it is the tale of a young boy who lives there. He introduces his seaside community, its inhabitants, and his father. is a miner working deep in the Cape Breton coal mines.

The boy's day begins with the sounds and sights of his town. From his bed, he hears them and from the window he sees and smells the sea that is so much part of  his existence. He and a friend head outdoors. He can always see the beauty of the sea; he is always aware that his father works far below it. After lunch he helps his mother by running errands. The walk home, beside that 'sparkling' sea, is wondrous.

The contrast is evident and sharply felt for a young boy whose days are filled with freedom to explore and appreciate the beauty that surrounds him. I love the repetitive introduction to the various parts of his day: 'it goes like this'. His observations are perfect in helping readers understand life as it is lived in his town. He knows it is his father's life, and it will be his, as it once was his grandfather's.

"At nighttime, it goes like this -

as I fall asleep I can hear the whooshing back and
forth of the waves.
I think about the sea, and I think about my father.
I think about the bright days of summer
and the dark tunnels underground.
One day, it will be my turn."

The writing is sensitive and loving, while also realistic. Life is what it is in this mining town. Knowing how his father spends his days makes him appreciative of his own days.

Sydney Smith's illustrations could not be more perfect. The scenes from the mine cover double page spreads where miners are barely seen under the black weight of their rocky ceiling. The beam from their helmets the only warmth shown. Contrast those to the expanses of sea, also shared over double pages: absolutely stunning on both fronts. The scenes from a seaside town are peaceful and picturesque, observing the quiet joy found in their family life, and the natural environment showcased in brilliant artwork.

Please don't miss it.

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