Joanne Schwartz on writing Town is By The Sea

Town is By the Sea is a 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honoree!
We asked Joanne Schwartz for a few words about how she wrote this hauntingly beautiful book.

I grew up in Cape Breton, surrounded by landscape and stories, the mining story being one of the most compelling. It is a story that is palpable, ingrained in family histories and community memory; honored with monuments and annual memorials. As a kid we used to drive out to these small mining towns to go visit friends and family. People talked, sharing their stories with generosity in a disarming salt-of-the-earth manner. Those Sunday drives also took us often to Glace Bay to visit the Miners Museum. Here the dramatic labor struggles of the mining history were laid out. Years of injustice, poverty and lost lives mark their course. What I learned of the history of mining made an indelible impression on me, one that has never lessened. Over the years, and recently more intensely, I took a personal reading journey deep into the pit and slowly, Town Is by the Sea emerged.

How to describe these small towns dotting the landscape, perched at the ocean’s edge? The phrase “town, road, grassy cliff, sea” came to mind, to capture that remote end-of-the-world feeling of these towns. How to tell something of the families? And a young boy’s voice came next. Through his lens I could find my way into the story and show how the mining history runs through generations of families. How to convey the disjuncture between the beauty of the landscape and the deep, dark, underground world of submarine mining? Create a rhythm in the text, like the rhythm of the sea, back and forth between the ever-present ocean and the depths of the pit. How to tell something of the legacy of the labor history? Show that link between grandfather, father and son — how the past, present and future converge in a shared story of labor, struggle and memory.

Town Is by the Sea comes out of all of this. It is my ode to the miners and their families, to the struggles they have endured and the communities they have created, in this rugged corner of the country.


Town is By the Sea

Town is By the Sea
Written by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith
A young boy wakes up to the sound of the sea, visits his grandfather’s grave after lunch and comes home to a simple family dinner with his family, but all the while his mind strays to his father digging for coal deep down under the sea.

With curriculum connections to communities and the history of mining, this beautifully understated and haunting story brings a piece of Canadian history to life. The ever-present ocean and inevitable pattern of life in a Cape Breton mining town will enthrall children and move adult readers.

On Kids who are Caregivers

When we picture a family setting, we normally assume that the children of the family are the ones being cared for. In reality, though, over a million children in the United States act as caregivers for siblings, parents or grandparents.

In Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng’s emotionally gripping picture book Walk With Me, now available in English, we see how one little girl cares for her young sibling, does the shopping and prepares the family meals. Her mother has to work to support the family, and her father is completely absent…unless he might be related in some way to the imaginary lion who helps this little girl navigate each difficult day?


Walk With Me is a simple, imaginative story depicting the complex emotional reality of a girl whose father no longer lives at home.

The girl conjures up an imaginary companion — a lion — who will join her on the long walk home from school. He will help her to pick up her baby brother from daycare and shop at the store (which has cut off the family’s credit), and he’ll keep her company all along the way until she is safely home. He will always come back when she needs him, unlike her father whom she sees only in a photograph — a photograph in which he clearly resembles a lion.

Enter to Win a GG Books Gift Pack

We’ve made tote-bags in celebration of our recent Governor General’s Literary Awards and want you to have one to fill with all your Summer reads!

Enter below to win a Tokyo Digs a Garden tote-bag along with a copy of Governor General’s Literary Awards winners Tokyo Digs a Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano & Kellen Hatanaka and Calvin by Martine Leavitt!

Tokyo Digs a Garden and Calvin

May is Mystery Month!

May is Mystery Month! We’ve wrapped up some of our favourite Groundwood Books for all ages in limited-edition The Moon Inside gift wrap. Which book is inside will remain a mystery until you tear it open! Click here to get your mystery book.

Groundwood Books May is Mystery Month

Here’s how it works:

Select a book age range from the drop down on the mystery book page — and adjust the quantity if you want more then one mystery book. In the “add special instructions for your order…” field during checkout, please let us know of any Groundwood books you currently have (just so we don’t send you those books) and/or the interests of your gift recipient. That’s it! We’ll send out your mystery book and your young reader will get a Groundwood surprise!

Stéphanie Lapointe on landing among the stars

Why does today’s society put so much value in being famous? This is the question that led author Stéphanie Lapointe to write the graphic novel Grandfather and the Moon, illustrated by Rogé.

Lapointe has spent time in the limelight herself. In addition to writing, she acts, sings, and is involved in various television, theater and film productions. Her musical career began in 2004 when she won the televised singing competition Star académie. As she said in an interview with La Presse, the connection between stardom and stars in space in Grandfather and the Moon is no coincidence.

The book is about a girl who enters and wins a contest to go to the moon, hoping that her grandfather will be proud of her. The journey into space is thrilling right up until she is about to reach the moon. To Lapointe, the story is a fable about realizing that the journey can be more important than actually achieving your dreams.

In her own words:

Twelve years ago, in Quebec, I won one of these reality-TV singing competitions that can take various forms and that have been so popular all over the world since the beginning of the 21st century.

It has been more than a decade already, and yet this moment when, for a split second and a handful of musical notes, my life was turned upside down in public under the gaze of millions of viewers, is still one of my most intact memories.

From this path that shaped me, gave to me, took from me and made me grow up, was born (almost without my knowledge!) Grandfather and the Moon.

In this world, which too often leaves us under the impression that we have to shine in order to exist, Rogé and I wanted to create a project that would exist, like a fable, and would ask a question similar to this one:

What if the essence of our lives lies in the crossing rather than at the finish line?


This moving graphic novel tells the story of the affection between a girl and her grandfather. When the grandfather withdraws in grief after his wife dies, the girl is determined to live life fully herself and enters an extraordinary contest — the result is a sensitive portrayal of pursuing a dream.

Grandfather, a man of few words, is devastated when his beloved wife succumbs to cancer, and he sinks into depression. His granddaughter (“Mémère,” as he calls her) has a different response. She decides to enter the Who Will Go to the Moon Contest, and when she actually wins, she hopes that Grandfather will be proud of her. She embarks on the thrilling journey and at first it is wonderful, but just as she is about to reach the moon, her journey takes an unexpected turn.

Contact us

Get in touch with us!