A bundled-up child of indeterminate gender, perhaps about 10 or so, rides a big-city bus on a snowy winter’s day and upon departure proclaims, “I know what it’s like to be small in the city.” This city seems dark, cold and not very friendly, and thus a tone of worry, uncertainty and intrigue runs throughout Sidney Smith’s captivating Small in the City.
Nonetheless, the unaccompanied narrator trudges through the streets with a sense of purpose and determination, seemingly fearless, although admitting that the busy streets “can make your brain feel like there’s too much stuff in it.”
“But I know you,” the child adds. “You’ll be all right.”
Offering advice on getting around safely, the narrator takes readers on a tour, warning against dark alleys and scary dogs while pointing out safe places to hide and spots offering comfort―a hot steam vent “that smells like summer,” a friendly fishmonger and a house where piano music is always playing.
Smith’s ink, watercolor and gouache illustrations perfectly portray the intricate, busy scramble of snow-covered city streets, while the narrator’s forward stride and yellow and orange boots act as a warm beacon on a stormy day. Some scenes are blurry, others razor-sharp. On one spread, a montage of vignettes shows the myriad sights that can seem an assault to the senses, from barbed wire and gleaming skyscrapers to warning traffic lights and crowds of people.
As the snow falls deeper and deeper, readers realize that the narrator is addressing their lost cat, all the while searching and putting up “lost” posters. Finally the child reaches home, falling into the arms of awaiting mom. The narrator hopes for the cat’s safe return while repeating the book’s comforting refrain, “But I know you. You will be all right.”
Small in the City is an unusual, useful parable, offering hope and reassurance for any young reader in the midst of a worrisome or frightening situation, whether it’s a missing pet or something else―or simply life itself.