About the Holiday
The world’s oceans offer beauty, resources, and mystery. This month we celebrate these vast wonders while committing ourselves to their preservation. Pollution, climate change, and habitat destruction all threaten the fragile ecosystems that exist in and near the sea. We also remember the communities that rely on the oceans for economic stability as well as the men and women who work to protect the oceans and their unique creatures.
Town Is by the Sea
Written by Joanne Schwartz | Illustrated by Sydney Smith
A little boy introduces readers to his home by the sea. It is so close that “it goes like this—house, road, grassy cliff, sea.” Early in the morning, his father leaves home and rides the tram that takes him underneath the ocean to his job as a coal miner. The little boy wakes later to the sounds of town—cars on the road, a dog barking, seagulls calling as they soar overhead. He rises from bed and gazes out the window at the vast sea, knowing that his “father is already deep down under that sea, digging for coal.”
After breakfast he goes next door to his friend’s house. They run to the playground where only two swings are left—“one for big kids and one for babies.” They swing so high they can see far in the distance where the “waves have white tips. And deep down under that sea,” he thinks, “his father digs for coal.” The boy returns home for lunch—a baloney sandwich, carrots, and milk—and then takes the grocery list his mother gives him and goes to the store, which is only a couple of blocks away.
On the way back home, past the sparkling sea, the boy thinks about his father digging coal. He stops off at the graveyard to visit his grandfather, who was also a miner. The boy says, “The air smells like salt. I can taste it on my tongue. My grandfather used to say, Bury me facing the sea b’y, I worked long and hard underground.” The grandfather’s stone is so close to the water that during storms, waves batter it. But the boy says, “That’s okay. My grandfather is used to storms.”
In the evening “it goes like this—” the boy’s father comes home from work with “black smudges on his face from working the coal.” Even though he is tired, he gives his son a smile and a hug. The little boy is happy to have him home “safe and sound.” The family eats dinner together and later the boy’s mother and father sit on the porch, talking. The boy falls asleep to the sound of the waves washing the shore. He thinks about his father and “the bright days of summer and the dark tunnels underground, knowing that one day, it will be his turn.
In Joanne Schwartz’s graceful tribute to a coal-mining town settled on the coast, the sea is as much a character as the little boy and his family. Sustaining the townspeople over generations, the sea wakes them, feeds them, provides beauty and challenges, and in its fluid consistency mirrors the love and security of family. The repetition of the boy’s thoughts that wander to join his father in the dark tunnels throughout the day demonstrate both the strong bond between father and son and also the developing identity of the boy, who is also destined for those underwater tunnels. Schwartz’s sure, straightforward storytelling provides details that are familiar to all readers, making it a universal tale, rooted in the heart.
Sydney Smith’s ink and watercolor illustrations gorgeously depict the dual nature of this town built solidly on a rocky coastline and surviving on the dusty, back-breaking work of coal-mining while overlooking the constantly flowing wash of the sea. The sunny sky and daily activities of the boy give way every so often to two-page spreads of the black tunnel, where the miners push carts, drill, and recoil from a sudden rock slide. The ocean, rendered in sage and blue with pearlescent waves, is always in sight, the lifeblood of this special town.
Town Is by the Sea is a beautiful reminder of both the constancy and change inherent in life and would be a lovely addition to home libraries for quiet times and family time.
Ages 4 – 9
Groundwood Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1554988716
View a portfolio of artwork by Sydney Smith on his tumblr!
National Oceans Month Activity
Sand is so much fun to play with at the beach that you just wish you could bring it home. Now you can! With this easy recipe you can create your own kinetic sand to form or let run through your fingers. It makes a great anti-stress reliever too!
- 1 cup sand
- ½ tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon dish soap
- Water as needed – about ¾ cup
- Bin or bowl for mixing dry ingredients
- Bowl for mixing dish soap and water
- In the bin combine the sand and cornstarch and mix well
- In the bowl combine the dish soap and water until the water is bubbly
- Slowly add the water mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing and adding water little-by-little until the desired consistency is reached. The grain of the sand will determine how much water is needed.
- The sand can be formed with cookie cutters, molds, hands, etc. and is strong enough to stack. Or its loose consistency makes it fun to drip, drabble, and let run through your fingers.
Picture Book Review