Logo Title Quebec Reading Connection

Town Is by the Sea

Schwartz, Joanne (Author)
Smith, Sydney (Illustrator)
Groundwood Books 2017. 52 pages
First published: 2017
ISBN: 9781554988716 (hardcover)
9781554988723 (e-book)
Original language: English
Book type: Picture Book

Text Elements:

recurring patterns, setting, structures and features

Awards

Governor General’s Literary Award – Finalist – 2017
Boston Globe-Horn Honor Book – 2017
TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award – 2018

Reading Range

 
Cycle
Elementary
Secondary
 
1
2
3
1
2
ELA
K
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL Intensive & Enriched
5
6
1
2
3
4
5

Description:

A boy describes his life as a miner’s son in a Maritime village. In the morning, he stands at the window looking out at the ocean expanse while his father “is already deep down under the sea, digging for coal.” With each new activity, the boy thinks of his dad in the tunnels underground.

The illustrations, done in ink and watercolours, are both beautiful and haunting, oscillating between the father’s stark reality and the boy’s bright scenes of playing on the swings or walking by the sparkling sea. The mining scenes are almost completely black, with just two figures crouched in a sliver of light at the bottom, drilling in one, escaping a cloud of coal in another. Above ground—the sea stretches across two pages—darker brush strokes show gentle waves while white brush strokes show the sun’s blinding reflection. The boy appears at the bottom of the page. His features are rudimentary, composed of only a few simple lines.

The text is minimal, with only one or two lines on most pages, but often has a poetic feel: “The sun sets slowly, sinking into the sea.” The boy knows he will likely become a miner too: “I think about the bright days of summer and the dark tunnels underground. One day, it will be my turn.”

The author’s note explains the mining legacy that was a reality for boys from the late 1800s up until the 1950s, when the story takes place.

  •  

    Discuss things in life that do not change from day to day. Might any of these things change?

  •  The illustrator Sydney Smith uses stark contrasts to shift the mood and tone of the story. Identify when these shifts take place and explain what message is being conveyed at these points.
  •  

    The author repeats the phrase, “it goes like this,” as if to say, this is how it is, how it has always been and how it always will be. How might it be difficult for someone who lives in a small town, where “it goes like this,” to break away and create a different life for themselves?

  •  

    This book has two stories being told simultaneously: one above ground, the other below; one light, one dark. Write a story using a similar two-storyline pattern.

  •  

    What can you infer from the page where the boy wearing underwear is looking out the window? How does your idea of the story change when you turn the page?

  •  

    Go for a picture walk and discuss the characters, setting and style of art.

  •  

    Draw a timeline of a day in this village. Compare it with a timeline of a day in your life.

  •  

    Is there a coal mine where you live? What types of jobs are available in your area? What are your parents’ jobs? Would you follow in their footsteps? Why or why not?

  • To construct his/her identity
  • To cooperate with others
  • Citizenship and Community Life
  • Health and Well-Being
  • Personal and Career Planning
  • Ethics and Religious Culture
  • Geography, History and Citizenship
  • Science and Technology