Town is By the Sea

Written by Joanne Schwartz
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Groundwood Books

A young boy wakes up to the sound of the sea, visits his grandfather’s grave after lunch and comes home to a simple family dinner with his family, but all the while his mind strays to his father digging for coal deep down under the sea. Stunning illustrations by Sydney Smith, the award-winning illustrator of Sidewalk Flowers, show the striking contrast between a sparkling seaside day and the darkness underground where the miners dig.

With curriculum connections to communities and the history of mining, this beautifully understated and haunting story brings a piece of Canadian history to life. The ever-present ocean and inevitable pattern of life in a Cape Breton mining town will enthrall children and move adult readers.

Reviews & Awards

“Town Is by the Sea is a powerful and profound work of art that tweaks our perspective and transcends its subject.”
– Shelf Awareness, Karin Snelson

“Hauntingly beautiful.”
– Booklist, starred review

“A quiet book that will stay with readers long after they have closed it.”
– Kirkus, starred review

“Art and text meld for a powerful glimpse at a way of life that begs inspection.”
– School Library Journal, starred review

“This is a moving story, and a fine example of text and pictures in perfect harmony.”
– Horn Book, starred review

“In Schwartz’s lyrical, wistful account, there’s no sense of injustice or complaint—only a note of resignation. It’s a sensitive way of helping readers understand that, for some, the idea of choosing a career is a luxury.”
– Publishers Weekly

“The emotional nuance in Schwartz’s restrained, poetic text gets full play in the extraordinary evocation of light and deep darkness in Smith’s art. …Delicacy and depth — in land- and seascape, in feeling and historical verity — make this exceptional, a tribute to Cape Breton miners and indeed, to mining families everywhere. Highly recommended.”
– The Toronto Star


TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award

Governor General’s Literary Award nominee

Boston Globe-Horn Book Honoree

Atlantic Independent Booksellers Choice Award

Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis 2019 nominee

Kate Greenaway Medal for Illustration

New York Times Best Illustrated