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Town Is by the Sea: Illustrator Sydney Smith’s 2017 BGHB Picture Book Honor Speech

Sheila Barry, the wonderful and clever co-publisher at Groundwood Books, must have known, when she casually handed me the manuscript, that I would have no choice. I would illustrate this book and I would work my ass off.

I began right away and stopped only days before the book went to print. I took the story everywhere, even to the gym. I would run on a treadmill with the manuscript and a sketchbook, and I’d jump off the moving belt whenever I had an idea. The other runners would look over my shoulder, expecting to see a scribbled-down symphony, or mathematic equations — not some sketches of a boy in his underwear.

Most of the spreads in the book were painted and repainted over and over, the only reason being that they just didn’t feel right. I made two covers, I added wordless spreads, I swapped out paintings last minute. Then I would shamelessly text photos of the new art to Sheila and wait, staring at my phone, for her response.

Needless to say, I broke some rules. But how could I stop?

Town Is by the Sea, beautifully written by Joanne Schwartz, is set in a place not far from where I was raised. Instead of a coal mine, in my town there was a factory. But all throughout rural Nova Scotia there is the common theme of the struggle of hard-working people surrounded by the rich beauty of the land and sea. The people there are tough and full of dry wit. My grandmother used to say, “I didn’t ask for much, and that’s just what I got.”

For four years my wife and I have lived in Toronto, and I miss my home. But every time I would pick up a brush and get to work on this book, I would be transported. How could I stop, and why would I want to? I was home, it was summer, and the sea was sparkling. If there were no such thing as deadlines, I would happily work on this book for the rest of my life.

I often describe a book I’ve enjoyed making as a “love letter.” A love letter to the city, a love letter to solitude, or a love letter to whimsy. Though it may be an obvious platitude, the illustrations in this book may be the ultimate of my love letters, addressed to my home and my family.

From the January/February 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read Town Is by the Sea author Joanne Schwartz’s speech here. For more on the 2017 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB17.

Sydney Smith About Sydney Smith

Sydney Smith is the illustrator of Town Is By the Sea (Groundwood), a 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Picture Book Honor Book.

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Comments

  1. Kathleen Cobb says:

    I am enthralled to read a book of love letters, any day of the week! Maybe even in PJs with a little bed lunch! 🎼Memories 🎶…[ thanks for ]

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