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Town Is by the Sea

town is by the seaNext month Groundwood Books will release one of the most beautiful picture books of the year. Written by Joanne Schwartz, with pictures by Sydney Smith, Town Is by the Sea follows a boy as he goes about his ordinary summer day — playing on the playground, eating lunch, going to the store to get groceries for his mom — all the while knowing that his coal-miner father is working underground. And that someday in the future, it will be his turn. It’s one of those picture books that’s simple on the surface, profound underneath. And the art! Smith illustrated Sidewalk Flowers, and all that intimacy and close observation is here as well, but this book adds glorious double-page seascapes that capture the changing look of the ocean as the light changes throughout the day (and captures sunlight on water more accurately and evocatively than anything I’ve ever seen) and contrasts them with the overwhelming darkness of the underground mine, to shivery, visceral effect.

It’s a breathtaking picture book…but it’s not eligible for the Caldecott: Sydney Smith is a Canadian citizen living in Canada. I’ve never served on the Caldecott committee, but I imagine that coming across a book as clearly award-worthy as this and having to put it aside would be rather wrenching. It might be an interesting exercise for a Caldecott committee to choose an ineligible-by-the-rules picture book like this to practice their observation and discussion skills on. (It even has a different cover underneath the paper jacket — entirely appropriate for a book that contrasts above and beneath, and one that progresses from early morning to night.)

Fortunately, other ALA committees have fewer restrictions — so Town Is by the Sea is eligible for Notables, for instance. Outside of ALA, this title might show up in places like USBBY’s Outstanding International Books (OIB) List, and many, many others. I hope and trust it will garner recognition and awards galore — it certainly deserves it.


About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is executive editor of The Horn Book Magazine and coauthor, with Roger Sutton, of A Family of Readers (Candlewick). She is coauthor of the Horn Book’s Calling Caldecott blog and has served on the 2008 Newbery committee and chaired the 2013 Laura Ingalls Wilder committee.



  1. Allison Grover Khoury says:

    Hello Martha, thank you for this review. I will look forward to this book. I’m glad you reviewed it here.
    I want to reiterate how much I appreciate Horn Book’s decision to have this blog go year round! I am very happy.

  2. Rachel Payne says:

    Interesting idea! To use an ineligible book in a practice book discussion. That would be a good practice for the committee’s one open meeting, the Midwinter prior to when they deliberate.

    Yes, it’s heartbreaking when a book you love is not eligible. The year I served, I loved, loved, loved Wave by Suzy Lee. I still look at that book with bittersweet pang.

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