Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Children's Fiction Multigenerational

Town Is by the Sea

by (author) Joanne Schwartz

illustrated by Sydney Smith

Groundwood Books Ltd
Initial publish date
Apr 2017
Multigenerational, Post-Confederation (1867-), General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2017
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Aug 2019
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 5 to 9
  • Grade: k to 4
  • Reading age: 5 to 9


Winner of CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal
Winner of the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award
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.

Correlates to the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts:

Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.

Explain how specific aspects of a text's illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting)

Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

About the authors

Joanne Schwartz was born in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Her first picture book, Our Corner Grocery Store, illustrated by Laura Beingessner, was nominated for the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award. Her other books include City Alphabet and City Numbers, with photos by Matt Beam, and two Inuit folktales with Cape Dorset elder Qaunaq Mikkigak — The Legend of the Fog, illustrated by Danny Christopher, and Grandmother Ptarmigan, illustrated by Qin Leng. Joanne has been a children’s librarian for more than twenty-five years. She lives in Toronto.

Joanne Schwartz's profile page

Sydney Smith was born in rural Nova Scotia and has been drawing from an early age. Since graduating from NSCAD University, he has illustrated multiple children’s books, including the highly acclaimed wordless picture book Sidewalk Flowers, conceived by Jon Arno Lawson, which won a Governor General’s Award, was named a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book and has been long-listed for the Kate Greenaway Medal. He is also the illustrator of Grant and Tillie Go Walking by Monica Kulling and The White Cat and the Monk by Jo Ellen Bogart, both highly acclaimed. Sydney has received a number of other awards for his illustrations, including the Lillian Shepherd Memorial Award for Excellence in Illustration. He now lives in Toronto and works in a shared studio space in Chinatown.

Sydney Smith's profile page


  • Commended, Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Books of the Year
  • Winner, Lillian Shepherd Memorial Award for Excellence in Illustration
  • Short-listed, Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Book Award
  • Commended, Cooperative Children's Book Center Best of the Year
  • Winner, CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal
  • Commended, ALSC Notable Children's Books
  • Winner, TD Canadian Children's Literature Award
  • Commended, New York Times Notable Children’s Books
  • Commended, Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Book
  • Commended, Shelf Awareness Best Books of the Year
  • Commended, School Library Journal Best Books
  • Commended, New York Times / New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books Award
  • Commended, Horn Book Fanfare
  • Commended, CCBC Best Books for Kids and Teens
  • Commended, Kirkus Best Picture Books
  • Commended, NPR Book Concierge
  • Commended, BookPage Best Children's & Young Adult Books
  • Short-listed, Governor General's Literary Award, Young People's Literature — Illustrated Books
  • Commended, Denver Public Library Best Children's & Teen Books

Editorial Reviews

This quietly devastating book … stirs timeless, elemental emotions.

New York Times

Art and text meld for a powerful glimpse at a way of life that begs inspection. A thoughtful and haunting book that will stay with readers.

School Library Journal

A quiet book that will stay with readers long after they have closed it.

Kirkus Reviews

Hauntingly beautiful.


Sydney Smith's gorgeous, airy illustrations showcase the beauty of childhood in the seaside town. … [Schwartz] perfectly captures the matter-of-fact thinking of a small child.

Quill and Quire

this story ebbs and flows like the sea itself . . . one of the best illustrated books of the year . . .

Huffington Post

This is a moving story, and a fine example of text and pictures in perfect harmony.

Horn Book

Other titles by

Other titles by

Related lists