Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia illustrator wins prestigious children's book award

Sydney Smith has won the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for his book, Small in the City.

Sydney Smith has won the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for his book, Small in the City

Small in the City follows a child as they trek through the city searching for something they lost. (Sydney Smith)

A Halifax illustrator has won one of the world's most prestigious children's book awards — again.

Sydney Smith won the 2021 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for his book, Small in the City.

The winner was announced in a virtual ceremony live streamed from The British Library on Wednesday.

Smith beat out 19 other contenders longlisted for the prize, which comes with £5,000 (about $8,800), plus £500 worth of books to donate to a local library and a golden medal. Small in the City was the only Canadian book to be longlisted this year.

Smith's book — the first he has both illustrated and written — depicts a young child's trek through a big city as they search for something they have lost. 

The chair of the judging panel, Ellen Krajewski, said in a press release that Small in the City "tells quite an ordinary story in such an extraordinary way that it surprises you.

"It conveys just how it feels to be small in an overpowering city. It's understated whilst also managing to build to a moving emotional end with the themes of being lost, alone, and overlooked, taking on a much wider resonance."

Winning the award was both "unreal" and "grounding," said Smith.

"It's unreal because it's one of the biggest prestigious awards for what I do, and so to be recognized that way, it just feels like, you know, I never sort of imagined that it could happen — although it's happened once before — I never thought it could happen again," he said.

Sydney Smith is the author and illustrator of Small in the City, and now a two-time winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal. (Steve Farmer)

Smith said it's grounding because during the pandemic he has been working alone and feeling disconnected from the community of illustrators, writers and publishers.

"You feel a little bit like you're on an island — you're not sure how many days have passed and you judge time by the length of your beard, as if maybe you imagined everything before," he said.

"Now it just feels like, oh, yeah, that's right … I'm still part of this community and they still recognize me as someone who is important."

This is the second time Smith has won the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal. He also won the award in 2018 for his illustrations in Joanne Schwartz's Town Is by the Sea, which depicts a day in the life of a boy in a 1950s coal-mining town.

The competition is judged by children's librarians across the U.K., who select the nominees based on the artwork's ability to create an outstanding reader experience.

For this year's prize, the librarians reviewed 152 nominated titles.