Take a trip back to the 1950s with Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith’s multi-layered picturebook.
This lovely, light-filled picturebook has hidden depths and is well worth reading and exploring with your class.
Told as a day in the life of a boy living in a 1950s coastal mining town, the book’s appealingly direct text is complemented by Sydney Smith’s striking illustrations which won him this year’s Kate Greenaway medal.
This expansive, airy book is full of the sights, sounds and smells of summer. The boy spends his day roaming the clifftops, running errands for his mother and playing with friends. He doesn’t forget the sea, though. How could he? As he keeps reminding us, deep beneath it is his father, digging for coal.
Observant readers will spot more than we’re being told. There’s a problem in the tunnel: will Father come home? The tension is subtle and swiftly relieved, but the shadows this book casts are real.
The boy and his friend will go down the pit, just like their fathers and grandfathers before them, because ‘that’s the way it goes.’ And once the dazzling summer light has faded, we’re left to wonder what became of our narrator and all the other boys like him.
This is a gem of a book and disarmingly accessible – children don’t need to know it’s set in the 1950s or understand coal-mining to enjoy it, but once they tune into the book’s emotional landscape they’ll start to read it in a different way.
Town is by the Sea offers an unusually rich experience: one that is multi-layered and can be appreciated on many levels, making it an ideal starting point for creative activities.
Carey Fluker Hunt is a freelance writer, children’s books ambassador and creative learning consultant. She is a founder member of Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books, where she was creative projects manager for many years.
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