In the first installment of September’s MTYT, Jean Schroeder and Holly Johnson discuss the first of four books that topped USBBY’s Outstanding International Books list. The common theme between these books is the need to escape. In Town is by the Sea, the main character needs to escape a generational cycle. This story shows how the character copes with the knowledge of what is seen as inevitable.
Holly: This month we have four of USBBY’s Outstanding International Books (OIBs), Jean! All published in 2017 and readily available across the USA, I really want to know what you think of the four individually, and as a text set. This week I thought we would start with Town is by the Sea, which gives readers a sense of one boy’s world contrasted by the beautiful setting of his Canadian seaside town and the life of his dad who labors in the mines underneath that beautiful sea. I loved the juxtaposition of the two worlds with the sense of peace and carefree life on the surface of the boy’s life that belies the danger and anxiety of the life for his father below the surface. There is one illustration with the family at dinner shows the creep of the family’s anxiety caused by the danger of mining. Really thoughtful picture book! What do you think?
Jean: I, too, was pulled in 2 emotional directions – one of what a seemingly joyful childhood this child narrator was experiencing. He had playtime with friends and no adults hovering. He had free time on his own. He had chores and family responsibilities as demonstrated by him setting the dinner table. On the other hand, the impending gloom of the coal mines left me not only with the dangers of that job, but also, I felt that there was no way out for the generational cycle. The child had already accepted that he too would work the mines. The illustration you mention reminds me of the dust bowl era. No matter how hard you try the coal dust is ever present. No wonder black lung disease was so common.
Holly: This book really made me think of my ancestors. My great-grandfather died in a mine after migrating from Norway in 1898. I have so little knowledge of that time period in my family’s history, but this book made me think of them, and all those who face that danger in order to make a living.
Jean: Growing up in western Pennsylvania, my father and his three brothers started a company providing equipment needed to mine coal. They had to change their focus over time. The illustration opposite of the one with the men in coal cars taking them into the mines shows the coal processing plant. This was a familiar sight in my childhood. I also remember having a coal-burning fireplace in the house where I grew up. I have to say that I was impressed with the choice of detail both the author and illustrator used that helped create the opposing tones of this story.
Title: Town is by the Sea
Author: Joanne Schwartz
Illustrator: Sydney Smith
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Date Published: August 29, 2017
This is the first installment of September’s issue of My Take/Your Take. Check back next week to see what books we’ve selected and to follow the conversation!