Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith (9781554988716, Amazon)
In a coal town in Cape Breton, Canada, a boy wakes up to a summer day. He wakes to the sound of the sea, spends some time with his friends. Still, his mind continues to think of his father mining for coat deep under the sea in the darkness. He runs errands for his mother and visits his grandfather’s grave which looks out over the sea. His grandfather too was a coal miner and the boy knows that it is his future as well.
Schwartz has created a book set in the 1950s in a coal town where families worked in the mines for generations. Even as the book shows a richness of a well-spent childhood, it is overshadowed by the presence of the coal mine in the boy’s life and how it impacted his family and his father in particular. She wisely works to contrast life above the ground with that below, showing a childhood of fresh breezes and sunlight that will turn into a life spent primarily in darkness.
Smith’s illustrations clearly depict the claustrophobia of the mines, filling the page with smothering darkness and only a couple of men in a tunnel. This contrasts with his illustrations of days spent near the sea, sometimes the sun nearly blinding as it shines off the water. There is a sense of the inevitable in the book, of life paths already formed.
A glimpse of Canadian history, this picture book will appeal to older readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Carpenter by Bruna Barros (9781423646761, Amazon)
In this wordless picture book, a little boy is playing with his electronic device. His father works near him on a carpentry bench. Suddenly, the little boy is distracted by the zigzag folding ruler that his father has been using. He imagines at first that it is a snake hissing at him, but is soon building with it by folding it into shapes. He creates a house, a car, a large tree, an elephant and even a whale! When the whale spouts water that floods the floor, his father saves him by pulling him up onto the table and into the boat that he’s been building. Now they can float safely and the ruler can become the sail.
Barros embraces the nature of children at play in the modern world by capturing the little boy’s love of digital devices at the very beginning. The ruler though sparks new creativity in the boy, allowing his imagination to guide him through all sorts of playful ideas. The wordless format also invites readers to use their imaginations to fill in the story. The bright pictures have a great graphical nature to them that has a strong boldness.
As a child I managed to break my share of zigzag rulers, so I completely understand their appeal. This book is filled with imagination for children and memories for us older folks. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.