Small in the City

At first, there's no reason to suspect that the narrator isn't addressing the reader: "I know what it's like to be small in the city" corresponds with an image of a behatted, bundled-up and backpack-toting child crossing a skyscraper-flanked avenue. But after several pages of what sound like his calls for sympathy ("People don't see you and loud sounds can scare you"), it becomes clear that the boy isn't being self-referential: "But I know you. You'll be all right." What's going on here? As the boy proceeds to share some tips with the unidentified "you" ("Alleys can be good shortcuts"), he's depicted hanging up flyers--hence the backpack--publicizing a cat's disappearance.

In Small in the City, the first book written and illustrated by Sydney Smith (who previously lent his considerable artistic talents to Sidewalk Flowers and Town Is by the Sea), the images do most of the talking. They range from modest vignettes of city life--a portion of wire fencing, a swatch of building--to showstoppers including a fractured illustration of the downcast boy's funhouse-like reflection in a mirrored-glass skyscraper.

Small in the City is too naturalistic to conclude with the expected child-pet reunion, but toward book's end, Smith gives us the reassuring sight of boy and mother hugging in front of their apartment building. If that doesn't send the reader to the tissue box, this might: a final, wordless illustration showing paw prints in the snow near some red flowers--a promise of relief from winter, relief from sorrow. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

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