Bookworm Author Sydney Smith on His Beautiful Book, SMALL IN THE CITY

Friends, we'd love to tell you about Small in the City, a wonderful picture book by the talented illustrator (and now author) Sydney Smith. At first glance, the premise seems simple enough: A child navigates a city in winter and offers the reader advice about which streets to walk down and which places to avoid. But pay close attention, and you'll begin to realize that the child is speaking to someone in particular. There's a poignant narrative twist towards the end, and the whole thing is full of gorgeous, expressive art. In short, it's a very special book.

We're thrilled that Sydney is coming to Houston for our annual Bookworm Festival on February 1st, alongside eleven other wonderful authors and illustrators of picture books and books for emerging readers. Oh, and hundreds of eager young readers and their families! It's going to be a great morning celebrating literacy in the greater Houston area. You can pre-register for the festival now, or just show up on the day of. Either way, be sure to check out our exclusive Q&A with Sydney below! 

Small in the City was your first book as both author and illustrator. Tell us a bit about the story and how you developed this idea.

Small in the City is about a young person walking through a large city, giving advice on how to safely navigate their neighbourhood. As their journey continues the reader finds there is more to this story than meets the eye.

I was inspired to write a story set in a large city and in a neighbourhood that looked like mine. It was important to me to document the time I and my family spent living in our neighbourhood in Toronto. 

How was working as both an author and an illustrator different than illustrating a manuscript written by someone else? Did anything about the process surprise you? 

At first I thought the process would be easier but I was wrong. Working with your own words can be limiting. There is something to be said for the magic that collaboration brings. There are results that could never have occurred without the meeting of two minds. That being said, working by yourself can open up more opportunities to play with format and structure.

We love your inky brushwork and the way you play with light and reflections. Can you tell us a little bit about how you create your art? 

I spent a lot of time collecting references and inspirations for this book. The reflections are indicative of city living but also increase a slight confusion in the mind of the reader, adding a hint of anxiety. Reflections also suggest a space outside of the page and the angle of which the reader is shown.

Ink and watercolour is a technique I am comfortable with and it made sense to have a confident but organic line, similar to the character in the book. Confident but human.

Small in the City has a unique trim size—its dimensions are tall and narrow, compared to many other picture books. Why did you choose that size?

At first I wanted the book to be a perfect square when opened but that meant the book would be almost too narrow like a menu. We brought the size down a little bit and it still works. The trim size felt right when talking about the experience of being surrounded by tall, thin buildings. Having a tall trim size can make the character feel even more small.

Can you tell us anything about your next projects?

I am excited to have illustrated a book by a West Coast (Canadian) author, Jordan Scott called I Talk Like a River, published by Neal Porter Books/Holiday House. It's a very touching story about a young child coming to terms with their own stutter. I pushed myself far to honour the story in new expressive ways. This book is coming Fall 2020.


Staff Pick Badge
Small in the City By Sydney Smith Cover Image
ISBN: 9780823442614
Availability: Special Order
Published: Neal Porter Books - September 3rd, 2019

It can be a little scary to be small in a big city, but this child has some good advice for a very special friend in need.

Winner of the Ezra Jack Keats Award
A New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Book of the Year
Winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal

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