Written and Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Little, Brown and Company, 2018
On the highest rock of a tiny island at the edge of the world stands a lighthouse.
The plot in a nutshell: A lighthouse keeper does his job.
The lighthouse uses its light to guide ships and it shines out like it’s saying ‘hello.’ A new lighthouse keeper comes to replace the old keeper and he takes care of the lamp, winds the clockwork that keeps it turning, makes notes in his logbook and makes sure everything goes well. He is lonely and he writes letters to a woman, then waits for her to answer. Sea storms come and go and then the tender comes, bringing supplies and his wife. He continues to tend the lighthouse and is happy to have her there with him. He tries to make sure the lighthouse helps during storms and fog, but one day a ship wrecks nearby and he rescues three sailors. During the winter, when the sea is frozen, the lighthouse keeper gets sick and his wife takes care of him and tends the lighthouse while he’s recovering. They have a baby and he adds that to his logbook. When the tender comes next, along with the supplies, it brings him a letter from the Coast Guard and he knows his time there is almost over. But instead of bringing a replacement keeper, they install a brand-new light than is run by a machine. He closes the logbook and leaves the lighthouse with his family. The light shines out as the lighthouse is saying ‘goodbye.’
The best books are those that make you want to jump into them and live in their pages (happily ever after, of course) and bookshelf favorite Sophie Blackall does that beautifully here. I would never have thought I would feel wistful for the life of a lighthouse keeper, but Ms. Blackall’s love for her subject matter spills from every page and you can’t help but be caught up in it. Honestly, I had never given much thought at all to lighthouses and the people who maintained them, but now I will look at all of that differently, which is another mark of an excellent book. A note in the back of the book gives some more information about the history of lighthouse keeping and it was fascinating to read.
Ms. Blackall’s artwork, in Chinese ink and watercolor, is everything I have come to expect from her. It’s delicate, detailed and full of gorgeous imagery. During the time we spend with this lighthouse and its keepers, the seasons and the weather change, bringing new colors and even new animals to the landscape. The book itself is taller and thinner than the average picture book, which is brilliant for a book about lighthouses. The keeper’s life seems simple and satisfying and the ending, in which his job is replaced by a machine, definitely made me feel a little sad. It’s a wonderful book that I recommend to anyone, especially if they have an affinity or interest in lighthouses. I really wouldn’t be surprised to see her up for consideration for another Caldecott Medal for this one.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there are so many people out there doing jobs that we never think about and it’s good to learn more about them.