Small in the City


Winner of the 2021 Kate Greenaway Medal

 I know what it's like to be small in the city...

Being small can be overwhelming in a city. People don't see you. The loud sounds of the sirens and cyclists can be scary. And the streets are so busy it can make your brain feel like there's too much stuff in it. But if you know where to find good hiding places, warm dryer vents that blow out hot steam that smells like summer, music to listen to or friends to say hi to, there can be comfort in the city, too.

We follow our little protagonist, who knows all about what it's like to be small in the city, as he gives his best advice for surviving there. As we turn the pages, Sydney Smith's masterful storytelling allows us to glimpse exactly who this advice is for, leading us to a powerful, heart-rending realization...---from the publisher

40 pages                 978-1406388404               Ages 4-7

2019 Winner of the Governor General's Award for Young People's Literature - Illustrated Books

Keywords:  size, being small, city living, cities, reassurance, fitting in, 4 year old, 5 year old, 6 year old, 7 year old, self image, childhood, being overwhelmed, feeling small, fitting in, safety, self confidence


“Way over yonder is a place that I know

Where I can find shelter from a hunger and cold”

— Carole King (1971)

“I know what it’s like to be small in the city.

People don’t see you and loud sounds can scare you,

and knowing what to do is hard sometimes.

Taxis honk their horns.

Sirens come and go in every direction.

Construction sites pound and drill and yell and dig.

The streets are always busy.

It can make your brain feel like there’s too much stuff in it.”

SMALL IN THE CITY is a powerful, memorable picture book story about a child traversing the city in the thick of winter. As we come to realize, the child is narrating advice to his or her missing cat.

Through most of the story, the child is on his or her own. I assume that the character is on the way home after school. My guess is that they are eight or nine years. The gender of the child is unclear.

We first see the child on a city bus. Departing the bus, the child walks through streets, hanging “Lost Cat” posters, and sharing recommendations as to where the missing cat should and shouldn’t go: There are dogs and dark alleys to avoid; a dryer vent under which a nap might be taken; a shop run by fishmongers who “would probably give you a fish if you asked.”

As this is taking place, a winter storm arrives and steadily intensifies. At the conclusion of the child’s journey, a mother waits outside and greets the child with an affectionate hug. By this time, there is a healthy accumulation of snow.

Then, on the final page, in the same location we just saw the mother and child reuniting, we see fresh cat prints in the fresh snow, and we know that everything is going to be alright.

The beautiful and affecting cinematic-like illustrations were produced with ink, watercolor, and gouache. The author/illustrator is Canadian, precluding the book’s eligibility for the Caldecott Medal. But SMALL IN THE CITY is quite exceptional, and I anticipate seeing it included on any number of Best of the Year lists.

I’d share the book with Pre-Ks through third-graders.

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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