Review of Small in the City

Small in the City
by Sydney Smith; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Porter/Holiday    40 pp.
9/19    978-0-8234-4261-4    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-4395-6    $11.99

In Smith’s (Sidewalk Flowers, rev. 5/15; Town Is by the Sea, rev. 3/17) debut as both illustrator and author, an intrepid child on the move in the big city speaks directly to an unknown someone. After two wordless spreads (with panel illustrations featuring the child, in silhouette and profile, on a bus), the text begins. “I know what it’s like to be small in the city…If you want, I can give you some advice.” A series of spreads follows in which the child wanders through the daunting wintry city and beyond, dispensing advice and encouragement (“Alleys can be good shortcuts. But don’t go down this alley. It’s too dark”). With full-bleed spreads juxtaposed with ones featuring small vignettes, Smith expertly communicates the city’s chaos and bustle with line, color, and scale. Jagged, angular lines convey the danger of being small in a big place; dark grays and blacks reflect both the harsh winter and the child’s worry; and huge skyscrapers emphasize the child’s small size. The identity of the book’s “you” is revealed only gradually, through the progressively specific advice the child dispenses (“I know you like to listen to music…You could perch on the window ledge”) and, eventually, through a poster the child tapes to a streetlight with a picture of a lost cat. There are signs of hope at the end, with new warm tones in the art as the child arrives home and with a final illustration featuring nearby paw-prints in the snow. This emotionally resonant ode to the resilience of small creatures in a big, loud world is tender and timeless — and a masterful merging of art and text.

From the November/December 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Julie Danielson
Julie Danielson
Julie Danielson writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. She also writes for Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and is a lecturer for the School of Information Sciences graduate program at the University of Tennessee. Her book Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, written with Betsy Bird and Peter D. Sieruta, was published in 2014.

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