The coal mines of Cape Breton in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia have closed, but this book recalls a time when generations of men toiled in the mines under the sea.
As the book starts, a white couple stands by the door. The woman holds her husband’s lunch pail as he gets ready to leave home. Upstairs, their son wakes up, and it is from him that readers will get to know his town and life by the sea, the repeated phrase “it goes like this—” lending the narrative a timeless quality. Both the text and the illustrations have a simple, understated quality that go hand in hand and lend a melancholic feel to the whole. A muted palette and images heavily outlined in black reinforce the feeling. As the boy goes about his life above—playing with his brown-skinned friend; coming home to a simple lunch; going to the store with a list for the grocer; or visiting his grandfather’s grave overlooking the sea—several predominantly black two-page spreads, vigorously textured strokes of black and gray adding weight, are woven into the narrative, reminding readers that deep down, the miners are digging for coal. A particularly poignant spread depicts the front door of the house in a wordless series, the angle of the sunlight showing time going by; in the last image the door is opening, and the narrator’s father is home at last.