Sydney Smith


Sydney Smith

Sydney Smith is a picturebook maker from Nova Scotia. Since graduating from NSCAD University, he’s worked on many books, including Town Is by the Sea, winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, and Footpath Flowers, which was a New York Times Children’s Book of the Year and winner of the Governor General Award for Illustration.

In this post, Sydney talks about Do You Remember?, a contemplative and deeply moving picturebook, told from the perspective of a young boy who is moving home and is trying to understand his emotions. To be published by Neal Porter Books in October 2023.

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Sydney: At this moment I am sitting on my doorstep waiting for a book to arrive in the mail. I am waiting for that complicated moment of holding something in my hand that is final and limited in its form. Something that had filled my days, months, and years and brought more struggle than I expected and uncovered more of myself than I was prepared to face. It started as a book about memory. I should’ve guessed I was in for a challenge.

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I had experimented in past books with painting softly and playfully. Those images looked like how a memory might appear if we could project our mind on a screen and show others that time when we were young.


Memory is something that is inherently personal and private but universal. As a visual artist I could try to communicate that feeling and the look of a memory. I wanted to speak to readers about the nature of memory, but I soon found out that I was swimming the deep end without my water-wings. It is vast area of the human experience, and I was unsure about my ability to tell an interesting story and relate it to the theme to which I was committed.

Hindsight tells me I was going about this all backwards. Starting with the theme and trying to fit a story to that theme requires too much forcing and manipulation and often makes for an awkward and stilted flow. I was not alone on this journey, my Virgil was my editor, Neal Porter. He gave me the freedom to explore and with every draft we shared we went deeper into the weeds, all the while Neal asking the only real question worth asking, “What is it about?”

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It was a book about remembering the past and making a memory of the present with someone you loved. But the characters, a mother and son, were sharing memories that were mine. They were real memories about living in the country, about picnics in the field, and riding my bike on the driveway then leaving all that behind and moving to the city. The two characters are in a bedroom on the first night in a new home in the city far from the farm. The book was working but I couldn’t even look at it. It felt deeply wrong. I was omitting a major element of the story, of my story. The part that made each memory worth recalling.


What actually happened was my parents divorced and my mother and I relocated far from our home in the country. Everything was uncertain and my world was turned upside down. My mother still calls it the Great Upheaval. I knew that if the story wasn’t true to our experience, I would be denying a part of my history even though it was painful to everyone involved. At the time of the divorce my role was to convince those around me who were in such pain that I was unaffected and stable. I understood that my sadness would make others sad. I felt like a custodian for the emotions and guilt that surrounded me. As the book evolved into a story of a broken family, I understood that my feelings of discomfort were there because I was pushing against the instinct that formed when I was that 8 year old. I was showing my sadness and it was ok. But that was not all. I was also answering the question my parents have silently asked for 36 years. It’s the same question I am asking now with children of my own. What will you remember? What will your memories of this time look like? Will you remember the upheaval, the darkness, the uncertainty?


The answer is that I remember love. Unconditional and ever present.

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This book is for my mother, but she has not seen it yet. I am sitting on my doorstep, waiting for this book to arrive in the mail. With its 40 pages and a handful of words, it could never say it all but it says enough.

Illustrations © Sydney Smith.

Do You Remember?

Sydney Smith
Neal Porter Books, United States, 2023

Can you hear the morning wind in the trees? Can you feel the snowflakes landing on your wrist? Can you taste the sweetness of the warm berries?

A boy describes the memories that are so meaningful to him as he is about to move into a new home. Sydney Smith takes us into the mind of the boy as he processes the complex emotions that he experiences as he contemplates his new surroundings.

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