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Review of Town Is by the Sea

schwartz_town is by the seastar2 Town Is by the Sea
by Joanne Schwartz; illus. by Sydney Smith
Primary    Groundwood    56 pp.
4/17    978-1-55498-871-6    $19.95

“From my house, I can see the sea. It goes like this — house, road, grassy cliff, sea. And town spreads out, this way and that.” There’s a distilled, haiku-like quality to this boy’s description of an ordinary summer day in a seaside coal mining town in the 1950s. As the boy moves through his day — swinging on the beat-up playground swing set, eating a baloney sandwich, visiting his grandfather’s grave, listening to the radio, watching the sun set — the focus shifts among three locations: home, the ocean, and the mine deep underground where the boy’s father is working. “And deep down under that sea, my father is digging for coal.” The sea is made of light, the mine of darkness; and home is a mixture. The narrative is infused with a quality of slightly anxious waiting that illustrator Smith captures beautifully, especially in a wordless four-panel spread that shows the afternoon light moving across the boards of the kitchen floor as the family awaits the father’s return. Our narrator falls asleep thinking about the dark tunnels underground and undersea, and about his future: “One day, it will be my turn.” The six small square paintings that accompany this page reflect the tension of this knowledge, equal parts anticipation and anxiety. This is a moving story, and a fine example of text and pictures in perfect harmony.

From the March/April 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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About Sarah Ellis

Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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