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2018 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal Winner:
Town is by the sea

 
'It goes like this - house, road, grassy cliff, sea.
And the town spreads out, this way and that'.

The place Joanne Schwartz describes is New Waterford, a fishing port and former coal-mining town in Cape Breton, Canada.
The story takes place in the '50s when life still revolved around the mines and "boys of high-school age, carrying on the traditions of their fathers and grandfathers, continued to see their future working in the mines. This was the legacy of a mining town". (from the Author's note)

We follow a young boy from dawn till dusk: we wakes up with the sound and breeze of the sea, plays in a playground by the sea the sea, he visits his grandfather's grave (facing the ocean) and then is back home for a light lunch. Then out again for some errands in town until his father is back from a long day working in the mine, and the family can finally gather around the table for a warm homemade meal. At the end of the day the boy and his sister are pictured asleep in their parents arms on the porch, looking at the sun sinking into the sea.

A very simple story with a lot to take in for both young readers and adults, who will inevitably be very far away from those places, time and mindset.

The story unravels along the alternation of light, coming from the ever-present sea, and the darkness of the mine, where the boy imagines his dad working throughout the day.
The light comes from the sea at different intensities throughout the day, marking the passing of time in the boy's unstructured day routine, becoming the symbol of his light-hearted, free childhood which he will one day surrender to darkness.
In this sense the awareness of life above and below the sea creates the paradox of light and darkness living together.
While readers are left with their maze and mixed feelings to resolve thinking about the boy's destiny, the story ends with an image that tastes anything but love for life and for the sea, and that conveys peaceful, humble acceptance rather than sad resignation.

Joanne Schwartz takes a photograph of the life in a mining town which could be any mining town in the world, there is no judgement or sadness in her words.
This neorealist, understated take on the subject is brought to life by Sidney Smith's striking art.
From the visual structure of the story to the amount of details in the illustrations, everything works together to throw us into the story, by the sea.

The way Sidney painted the sea changing through the day is incredible: I found myself staring at those double pages for minutes while reading to my daughter, and I seriously wish I could have an oversized print of that artwork to keep it in my home.

An unconventional book that moves away from all the motivating, empowering (often overwhelming) stories about mighty kids that we see around lately.

Town is by the sea is the winner of the 2018 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, which is the only prize in the UK to solely reward outstanding illustration in a children's book. Canadian illustrator Sydney Smith received the prize two weeks ago in London. 
Smith said: "Although this story is specific to a place and a time, the context of childhood is universal. There is something so beautiful about the universality of the complicated richness of youth. It is a dream come true to see my work, crafted from my heart, for family and my home to be honoured by the highest of praises. There is no better feeling than to be recognized for something that was created with sincerity and joy. I regard this honour as a challenge to continue to work with such tools."
You can see the video of his award acceptance speech here .
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Town is by the sea [2017]
Words by Joanne Schwartz
Art by Sydney Smith
Reading age 4+
Themes: Life cycles, Identity, Growing up



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