Small in the City
I’ve loved Sydney Smith’s work ever since I saw his illustrations for Footpath Flowers so was super-excited to learn of his first picture book as both author and illustrator. It’s a stunner.
The story begins with two wordless spreads showing a child on a tram, the first four blurred views through the tram’s misted window from the boy’s seat,
the second looking into and within the vehicle.
Then, warmly wrapped against the cold, the lad (our narrator) rings the bell, gets off the tram and starts walking. ‘I know what it’s like to be small in the city,” he comments as he crosses the road, continuing to talk of the hustle and bustle around.
As he negotiates crowds and traffic we sense that it’s not the reader he’s addressing, rather it’s a special someone known to him; and instead of being scared, he begins to give advice, …’don’t go down this alley. It’s too dark.’ … ‘There are lots of good places to hide, like under this mulberry bush. Or up the black walnut tree.’
Gradually, even before the boy begins to put up posters, readers understand that he isn’t talking to a human at all. As he enters the park, snow swirling all around, he stops to put up another of his posters; then we see …
and in the dwindling daylight we fully appreciate his, ‘Your bowl is full and your blanket is warm. If you want you could just come back.’
There’s a final twist in the narrative that leaves readers with fast beating hearts, awed by Smith’s brilliance in capturing emotions, and by his use of light, shadows and reflections; and with new knowledge, a desire to turn back to the beginning and start the story over again.