What was it like to be the keeper of a lighthouse before electricity? What would your day look like? How did you get food? Hello Lighthouse is a beautifully written and illustrated picture book that tells a story of one light keeper, his day to day duties, the family that stands alongside him and the responsibility of such a position. Blackall completed a large amount of research about lighthouses that gives this picture book interesting historical facts within the framework of this single story. She also had a personal experience with lighthouses, having stayed at one in Newfoundland. Hello Lighthouse provides the reader with beautiful yet delicate art in Chinese ink and watercolor (Woodman, 2020, p. 90), tells a heartwarming story of a man and his family living in unusual conditions and presents the reader with detailed and researched information about the history of lighthouses.
EVALUATION OF BOOK
The first detail that the reader may notice about this picture book are its dimensions. At 7.5 by 12.06 inches, this book is long and narrow, similar to length, but not tapering, of a lighthouse. Blackall uses colored pencils in this picture book to create evocative yet realistic setting of life at this lighthouse. Even the first title and copyright page is breathtaking, with a swirling image of the blue waves of the ocean and the lone lighthouse as the focal point (See Image 2). The life of a lighthouse keeper is seemingly non stop, yet tedious and routine. To capture this action, she uses circular frames. These frames might include an image of the keeper fishing outside a winder, him preparing the fish or needling his thread. The background of such scenes are the ever present swirls of the waves of the sea. In other scenes, Blackall utilizes the length of this book to emphasis the length of the lighthouse. In a scene of fear and concern, the wife of the lighthouse keeper is seen tending to her sick husband on one page and running down the stairs to chip ice. The staircase takes up the page from top to bottom, and the readers sees the red cheeked, yet determined woman doing what she needs to do. In this way, the artist depicts action and tells the emotional journey of their characters.
At the beginning of the book, the reader sees the man arriving to tend to the lighthouse. There is a picture of a woman on his desk, which suggests he has a wife or girlfriend. After seeing the keeper in his daily routine, there is a surprising scene where we see his wife being pulled up to the lighthouse from a ship using a pulley. After her arrival, the reader sees the most intimate scenes, whether of them dancing, tending to over board sailors or having their child. This gives reader a view into a life that is foreign but also normal. There is a man and woman, but they life in a vertical building in the ocean isolated from everyone. There is a man and woman, but they are delivering a baby by themselves. There is a man and woman, but they have to take care of each other. In some ways, their isolation and strange home is a way of making this story even more poignant and moving. It brings forth the question, what do we need other than those we love?
“Careful attention to detail often requires extensive research before an artist begins work on the illustrations (Young, Bryan, Jacobs, Tunnell, 2020, p. 56).” This could not be more true of Hello Lighthouse. At the end of the book, entitled, “About Lighthouses,” Blackall tells about her initial assumptions about lighthouses and her journey researching them, whether visiting museums or reading about them. The inspiration for this book, according to her notes is “based on the one [she] stayed in on a tiny island at the northern tip of Newfoundland” (Blackall, 2018, p. 44). One aspect of her research that is noticaeble throughout the work is the incorporation of logs. As the reader sees, every event, no matter how mundane, was painstakingly recorded in the log. In the book, this ranges from his wife documenting his illness, to the birth of their child, to the rescuing of sailors. The details of this logbook really bring to life the expectations of a lighthouse keeper. It is here where this book serves multiple functions. It is beautifully illustrated, but tells an informative story about what life was really like. Young and old readers alike come away with knowing just a bit more about lighthouses and how they were kept before electrical lights changed the industry forever. I can imagine that in less capable and less researched hands, this book would not be both as beautiful and informative in a way that does’t feel like it is teaching you something.
Hello lighthouse is a gem from Sophie Blackall. Nautical buildings in the 19th century might not strike excitement in the hearts of young people, but this book takes that topic and creates a work of art. More importantly, it tells a story of a man, a woman and their child. Blackall based this book off of what initially was inspired by a print of a lighthouse she found at a flea market. From here, she immersed herself into the world and history of lighthouses, through research, museums and visiting lighthouses. Add to all that information, a delicate and charming watercolor illustrations and the reader is swept away another time and place. The narration complements the illustration while subtly informing the reader of the day to day experiences of this one family. This Caldecott Medal winner deserves a home in any library that serves children.
Blackall, S. (2018). Hello lighthouse. Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Young, T.A., Bryan, G., Jacobs, J.S., Tunnell, M.O. (2020). Children’s literature, briefly. Pearson Education, Inc.
Woodman, R. (2019). Hello Lighthouse. School Librarian, 67(2), 90.