August 7 – National Lighthouse Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-miss-colfax's-light-cover

About the Holiday

Lighthouses have been in use since the earliest days of sea-going vessels. Built to warn sailors of dangerous and damaging rocks and reefs, these sentinels are a picturesque and fascinating part of history. From man—and woman—tended lights to today’s automated systems, lighthouses are a beacon of inspiration and imagination.

Miss Colfax’s Light

Written by Aimée Bissonette | Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen

 

In 1861 when Harriet Colfax’s brother fell ill and decided to leave Indiana, Harriet had two options: she could leave with him—after all she had come to Indiana with him and worked with him at their newspaper—or she could stay on as the lighthouse keeper of the Michigan City Lighthouse, making $350 a year. Most women might have chosen to leave, but Harriet did not want to give up her independence or leave her best friend, Ann. She took the job as lighthouse keeper even though many in town thought she was too weak or too inexperienced to do the work.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-miss-colfax's-light-Michigan-city-lighthouse

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2016, courtesy of sleepingbearpress.com

Harriet knew the ships on the sometimes wild waters of Lake Michigan—one of the northern United States’ Great Lakes—relied on the lighthouse to keep them from danger. Twice every night she had to carry “whale oil in a bucket up narrow stairs to the top of the lantern tower” to refill the light and then polish the Fresnel lens. During the day, she “cleaned and painted…varnished the woodwork and shined the brass…and wrote notes in her log.”

It didn’t matter if Harriet was tired or sick or if winter storms rocked the shore, Harriet’s work went on. In 1871 a beacon light was installed at the end of the Michigan City east pier. Now in addition to the main lighthouse, Harriet had to keep this signal lit too. To do so required a long walk down a wooden catwalk that jutted far out into the lake. At times the freezing water roiled and splashed over the catwalk, making the walk tricky and dangerous. By this time lard had replaced whale oil as fuel. While it was cheaper and easier to get, it also had to be heated to pour. Sometimes on frigid winter nights “the lard oil hardened in the cold and Harriet had to fight back through the wind to reheat the oil” on her stove.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-miss-colfax's-light-harriet-adding-oil

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2016, courtesy of sleepingbearpress.com

In 1874 the beacon light was moved to the west pier—farther away. Instead of being within walking distance, Harriet now had to “row a small boat across a creek, hike the far shore, and cross a longer catwalk to light the beacon light.” One night in 1886 storms raged as Harriet made her way down the west pier. “Driving sleet covered her coat with ice. Sand from the dunes along the lake pelted Harriet’s face, stinging her cheeks. Her boots slipped and slid on the catwalk.” Only moments after she finished filling the beacon light and stepped off the catwalk, “a deafening screech filled the air” as the beacon tower “ripped from its moorings and crashed into the lake.”

Harriet’s dedication to the Michigan City Lighthouse continued every day and every night for 43 years. People in town came to call the landmark “Miss Colfax’s Light,” and ship captains named it “Old Faithful.” Over the years her vantage point on the tip of the shore allowed Harriet to experience more than stormy seas. She also saw “brilliant sunsets, lunar eclipses, and silent, dancing northern lights. She saw tall-masted schooners with white sails give way to steamships of iron and steel.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-miss-colfax's-light-meeting-a-ship-captain

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2016, courtesy of sleepingbearpress.com

In 1904, when Harriet was 80 years old, the Michigan City Lighthouse underwent a renovation. It acquired a fog signal, and the oil-burning mechanism was replaced with a steam engine and boilers with huge coal-fired furnaces that required several keepers. Although Harriet was sad to leave her life as a lighthouse keeper behind, she understood. With the same bravery that had brought her to the lighthouse, she opened the door and stepped out to what came next.

An author’s note about Harriet Colfax follows the text along with a glossary of terms used in the book.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-miss-colfax's-light-harriet

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2016, courtesy of sleepingbearpress.com

The life of Harriet Colfax needs no embellishment to reveal the kind of determination and dedication it took to keep the Michigan City Lighthouse shining. Aimée Bissonette tells this brave woman’s story straightforwardly, focusing on particular moments when her duties were increased or her resolve challenged. Harriet’s personal motto that kept her going: “I can do this” is repeated throughout the book, echoing the revolving beacon that shines continuously on the shore of Lake Michigan. Actual entries from Harriet’s log punctuate the text, lending authenticity and Harriet’s voice to the story.Children will be fascinated by this snapshot of American (and world) history.

Eileen Ryan Ewen’s action-filled paintings of Harriet and her work beautifully demonstrate to readers Harriet’s incredible will and perseverance under the most difficult circumstances. The narrow stairs of the lighthouse pose daunting in the middle of the night; the seas of Lake Michigan surge and lap at Harriet and the winds buffet her as she navigates the catwalk; and an exhausted Harriet stands at the stove melting lard to light the lens. Children interested in ships and the sea will find much here to excite their imaginations.

A captivating biography of a woman who lived life on her own terms long before there was support for her choices, Miss Colfax’s Light will inspire today’s kids and is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9

Sleeping Bear Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1585369553

Meet Aimée Bissonette and learn more about her books and work on her website!

To view Eileen Ryan Ewen‘s portfolio, sketchbook, and other books, visit her website!

National Lighthouse Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shining-lighhouse-maze

Shining Lighthouse Maze

 

Lighthouses protect ships from rocks, fog, and other dangers. Can you help the beam from the lighthouse reach the tugboat that is approaching in this printable Shining Lighthouse Maze? Here’s the Solution.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-national-archives-lighthouse-coloring-book-2018

National Archives Lighthouses from the Collection

 

If you’re fascinated by lighthouses, you’ll love exploring these drawings from the United States National Archives. Click below to download a pdf of lighthouses from around the country. 

The National Archives of the United States Coloring Book of Lighthouses

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-miss-colfax's-light-cover

You can find Miss Colfax’s Light at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

August 22 – It’s American Artist Appreciation Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-the-gwen-frostic-story-cover

About the Holiday

From the earliest days of the exploration and settlement of America, artists have been creating works that reveal the beauty, complexity, and meaning of this country and her people. Over the years American artists have developed innovative styles and delved into universal subjects in new ways. This month we celebrate these artists of the past and present who, through their work, make us see the world in fresh ways.

Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story

Written by Lindsey McDivitt | Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen

 

“Gwen followed her brothers and sisters everywhere, like a small fawn follows its herd.” Even though an illness in babyhood had left her hands and one foot weak and her speech slurred, Gwen grew up confident that she could do anything. Born in 1906, Gwen, as a child with disabilities, would normally have stayed home instead of attending school. But her mother had been a teacher, so she sent her to school and “pushed her to learn.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-the-gwen-frostic-story-young-gwen

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The other kids giggled and whispered behind her back, and while she wanted to hide, she instead “gathered up knowledge like a bird builds a nest.” Her teachers thought she would never be able to write. To strengthen her hands, her mother encouraged her to draw, keeping a drawer full of supplies within reach. As Gwen sketched, her grip grew firmer.”

While making friends was difficult, Gwen found companionship in nature. She loved to spend time outdoors watching the unfurling ferns and frogs that “lapped up bugs with long, quick tongues.” From nature, Gwen learned, “‘all things are vital to the universe…all are equal…and at one…different.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-the-gwen-frostic-story-school

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

A move to Detroit when she was twelve introduced Gwen to the buildings and people of a big city. In high school, Gwen, now stronger, took mechanical drawing and shop class. Later, in art school, Gwen was introduced to linoleum, in which she carved intricate images for printmaking. Gwen’s dream was to be an artist, but she also knew she needed to earn money to pay expenses.

She started a business making objects from hammered metal. Word of her art spread quickly. It was bought by leading Detroit families, and Gwen was invited to exhibit her art at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. When World War II broke out, Gwen went to work building bombers. She even designed tools for building the planes. Contributing to the war effort was important, but Gwen still “longed to create art.” She bought a printing press and opened “Presscraft Papers stationery company.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-the-gwen-frostic-story-gwen-in-nature

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Gwen began to miss the nature she loved so much, so she packed up and moved back to Michigan. There, “she walked deep into the wetlands” and began carving linoleum blocks, recreating nature as she saw it. “She wanted others to see nature as she did, to recognize the value of plants, trees, and animals.” She made prints from her linoleum blocks and created greeting cards on her press. Her beautiful artwork reminded people of nature’s bounty at a time when the environment was threatened with pollution. People came from all over to her shop in the Michigan woods to buy her art that spoke to them: “‘Love this earth, / Love it’s waters… / Care enough to keep it clear.’”

An Author’s Note reveals more about Gwen Frostic’s life and provides a sketching craft for readers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-the-gwen-frostic-story-drawing

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Lindsey McDivitt’s superb biography of Gwen Frostic—an artist, inspiration, and pioneer for career women and the disabled—introduces children to a woman who, through persistence and confidence, lived life on her own terms. McDivitt’s lyrical prose infuses the story with the poetry of nature that Gwen internalized and translated into the art that people continue to admire and seek out. McDivitt’s thorough storytelling and excellent pacing allow for a full understanding of Gwen Frostic’s achievements. Young readers will be fascinated by the life work of this talented and determined artist.

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Eileen Ryan Ewen captures Gwen Frostic’s strength of character, can-do attitude, and love of nature in her stunning artwork. Full-page illustrations follow Gwen from her beloved Michigan woodlands to Detroit to art school and through her life as an artist and business woman. Images of Gwen carving a linoleum block, sketching designs for new tools as she sits next to a fighter plane and the woman installing rivets, working an old printing press, and greeting visitors at her shop broaden readers’ understanding of the times and Gwen’s work.

An exceptional picture book that provides encouragement and inspiration, Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story is a must for classroom libraries and would make a positive impact on young readers as part of their home library.

Ages 6 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585364053

Discover more about Lindsey McDivitt and her books on her website.

To learn more about Eileen Ryan Ewen, her art, and her books, visit her website.

American Artist Appreciation Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature-coloring-page

Nature Coloring Pages

 

If you love nature like Gwen Frostic did, you’ll enjoy these printable Nature Coloring Pages.

Meadow Coloring PageOcean Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-the-gwen-frostic-story-cover

You can find Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

June 23 – It’s National Dairy Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-symphony-of-cowbells-cover

About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established in 1937 as National Milk Month to encourage people to drink more milk to stabilize the dairy industry during a time of surplus. The event grew to celebrate all the benefits provided by the dairy industry around the world. The name was changed when the National Dairy Council took over promotion of the holiday. 

A Symphony of Cowbells

Written by Heather Preusser | Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen

 

With the dawning of spring, Gimmelwald came alive with the “Da-ding, da-ding. Jingle-jangle, jingle-jangle. Clang-clong-clank, clang-clong-clank” of bells as the cows were led to the sweet, green grass in the high meadows. The cows’ milk would become “scrumptious cheese…sold by the wedge, wheel, and wagonload.” As Petra walked with her family’s herd, she led her favorite cow, Elfi, who “wore the most booming brass bell of all.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-symphony-of-cowbells-no-bell

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, text copyright Heather Preusser. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

But one day Elfi’s bell was missing. Petra’s father told her they had a schedule to keep and that Elfi would have to go without her bell, but Elfi wouldn’t hear of it. She stomped her hoof and stood her ground. No amount of pushing, pulling or prodding could move Elfi from her spot. Petra ran and retrieved a tiny tin bell to hang around Elfi’s neck, but Elfi only “sniffed and snorted at the embarrassing tinkling. Tittle-tattle-tink, tittle-tattle, tink.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-symphony-of-cowbells-stubborn-elfi

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, text copyright Heather Preusser. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Without Elfi to lead them, Petra’s other cows lay down in the meadow and refused to move as well. “‘No milk? No cheese? What’ll we do?’ Petra gulped.” She begged Elfi to get up, but Elfi simply gazed at Petra with “eyes wide as milk saucers.” Petra knew she had to find Elfi’s bell. She searched the house, looked in the barn, and combed the field, but didn’t find the bell. The sun went down, and “the stubborn cows remained rooted among the bellflowers.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-symphony-of-cowbells-tiny-bell

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, text copyright Heather Preusser. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In the morning, Petra spied a crow with something shiny in its beak. She ran after it and discovered the bird’s huge nest high on a cliff. She was much too small to reach it, so she called her father, her mother, and a couple of neighbors. They piled on top of one another, and as Petra teetered on her mother’s shoulders, she reached into the nest and pulled out…Mr. Schmid’s pocket watch, Miss Baumann’s reading glasses, Farmer Felber’s wrench, Mother’s bracelet, Father’s keys, and…Elfi’s brass bell!

Petra skipped all the way to where Elfi and the other cows were keeping their protest, the brass bell announcing “Brrring-BONG, brrring-BONG. Brrring-BONG, brrring-BONG” all the way. When Elfi saw her bell, she danced with joy. Petra placed the bell over Elfi’s head and kissed her velvety nose. The other cows took notice. “On cue, they stood and moseyed up the mountainside….The symphony of cowbells was harmonious again—and LOUD. It was springtime in Gimmelwald after all.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-symphony-of-cowbells-clanging-bells

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, text copyright Heather Preusser. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Heather Preusser’s enchanting Swiss tale of tenderhearted but stubborn Elfi will delight readers with its musical mystery and gentle humor. Kids will love hearing and reading along with the melodic verses of jingling cowbells sprinkled throughout the text. Preusser’s lyrical phrasing is as fresh as the mountain air and will transport children to the beautiful Swiss countryside.

A Symphony of Cowbells is a perfect example of text and illustrations working together to present the story and add layered details that elevate the reading experience. Eileen Ryan Ewen’s gorgeously detailed and charming paintings take readers to the heart of Gimmelwald, with its glorious mountain backdrop, quaint village architecture, and cozy homes decorated with Alpen cuckoo clocks, dainty curtains, and window boxes overflowing with flowers.

Along the way Ewen frames a consecutive story along the bottom of most pages. Through these panels, eagle-eyed readers will notice a curious happenstance occurring in Gimmelwald which just may explain a few things…. It’s not until the end, however, that kids discover the answer to the story’s mystery.

A Symphony of Cowbells is a captivating and humorous look at country life with a little science sprinkled in. Readers may be enticed to do a little more research into the animal behaviors that influenced the story. The book would make a lovely addition to any child’s home library.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1585369683

To learn more about Heather Preusser and her book as well as see a video about the real Gimmelwald, visit her website!

Discover more about Eileen Ryan Ewen and view a portfolio of her illustration work on her website!

National Dairy Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bell-bookmark-a-symphony-of-cowbells

Ring a Bell for Reading Bookmark

 

It’s easy to make a stylish bookmark that can ring out your love of reading while marking your page!

Supplies

  • 3 shoelaces or ribbon of different designs
  • Small “sleigh” bells or other bellscelebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bell-bookmark-a-symphony-of-cowbells

Directions

  1. Hold three shoelaces together and knot them together at the top
  2. Braid the shoelaces together as long as you want your bookmark to be
  3. At the end, string three or more bells onto the ends of the shoelaces and knot the shoelaces together to hold the braid closed.
  4. Alternately, you can knot the braid at the end and tie a group of bells to the end.
  5. The end with the bells becomes the top of the bookmark.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-symphony-of-cowbells-cover

You can find A Symphony of Cowbells at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Millon | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 27 – National Tell a Story Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-symphony-of-cowbells-cover

About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established to celebrate the art of storytelling. Highlighting the tradition of oral storytelling, the day encourages families to get together and have fun remembering and sharing family tales. Reading together is another wonderful way to discover your own stories and those of others around the world.

A Symphony of Cowbells

Written by Heather Preusser | Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen

 

With the dawning of spring, Gimmelwald came alive with the “Da-ding, da-ding. Jingle-jangle, jingle-jangle. Clang-clong-clank, clang-clong-clank” of bells as the cows were led to the sweet, green grass in the high meadows. The cows’ milk would become “scrumptious cheese…sold by the wedge, wheel, and wagonload.” As Petra walked with her family’s herd, she led her favorite cow, Elfi, who “wore the most booming brass bell of all.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-symphony-of-cowbells-no-bell

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, text copyright Heather Preusser. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

But one day Elfi’s bell was missing. Petra’s father told her they had a schedule to keep and that Elfi would have to go without her bell, but Elfi wouldn’t hear of it. She stomped her hoof and stood her ground. No amount of pushing, pulling or prodding could move Elfi from her spot. Petra ran and retrieved a tiny tin bell to hang around Elfi’s neck, but Elfi only “sniffed and snorted at the embarrassing tinkling. Tittle-tattle-tink, tittle-tattle, tink.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-symphony-of-cowbells-stubborn-elfi

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, text copyright Heather Preusser. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Without Elfi to lead them, Petra’s other cows lay down in the meadow and refused to move as well. “‘No milk? No cheese? What’ll we do?’ Petra gulped.” She begged Elfi to get up, but Elfi simply gazed at Petra with “eyes wide as milk saucers.” Petra knew she had to find Elfi’s bell. She searched the house, looked in the barn, and combed the field, but didn’t find the bell. The sun went down, and “the stubborn cows remained rooted among the bellflowers.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-symphony-of-cowbells-tiny-bell

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, text copyright Heather Preusser. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In the morning, Petra spied a crow with something shiny in its beak. She ran after it and discovered the bird’s huge nest high on a cliff. She was much too small to reach it, so she called her father, her mother, and a couple of neighbors. They piled on top of one another, and as Petra teetered on her mother’s shoulders, she reached into the nest and pulled out…Mr. Schmid’s pocket watch, Miss Baumann’s reading glasses, Farmer Felber’s wrench, Mother’s bracelet, Father’s keys, and…Elfi’s brass bell!

Petra skipped all the way to where Elfi and the other cows were keeping their protest, the brass bell announcing “Brrring-BONG, brrring-BONG. Brrring-BONG, brrring-BONG” all the way. When Elfi saw her bell, she danced with joy. Petra placed the bell over Elfi’s head and kissed her velvety nose. The other cows took notice. “On cue, they stood and moseyed up the mountainside….The symphony of cowbells was harmonious again—and LOUD. It was springtime in Gimmelwald after all.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-symphony-of-cowbells-clanging-bells

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, text copyright Heather Preusser. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Heather Preusser’s enchanting Swiss tale of tenderhearted but stubborn Elfi will delight readers with its musical mystery and gentle humor. Kids will love hearing and reading along with the melodic verses of jingling cowbells sprinkled throughout the text. Preusser’s lyrical phrasing is as fresh as the mountain air and will transport children to the beautiful Swiss countryside.

A Symphony of Cowbells is a perfect example of text and illustrations working together to present the story and add layered details that elevate the reading experience. Eileen Ryan Ewen’s gorgeously detailed and charming paintings take readers to the heart of Gimmelwald, with its glorious mountain backdrop, quaint village architecture, and cozy homes decorated with Alpen cuckoo clocks, dainty curtains, and window boxes overflowing with flowers.

Along the way Ewen frames a consecutive story along the bottom of most pages. Through these panels, eagle-eyed readers will notice a curious happenstance occurring in Gimmelwald which just may explain a few things…. It’s not until the end, however, that kids discover the answer to the story’s mystery.

A Symphony of Cowbells is a captivating and humorous look at country life with a little science sprinkled in. Readers may be enticed to do a little more research into the animal behaviors that influenced the story. The book would make a lovely addition to any child’s home library.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1585369683

To learn more about Heather Preusser and her book as well as see a video about the real Gimmelwald, visit her website!

Discover more about Eileen Ryan Ewen and view a portfolio of her illustration work on her website!

National Tell a Story Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bell-bookmark-a-symphony-of-cowbells

Ring a Bell for Reading Bookmark

 

It’s easy to make a stylish bookmark that can ring out your love of reading while marking your page!

Supplies

  • 3 shoelaces or ribbon of different designs
  • Small “sleigh” bells or other bellscelebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bell-bookmark-a-symphony-of-cowbells

Directions

  1. Hold three shoelaces together and knot them together at the top
  2. Braid the shoelaces together as long as you want your bookmark to be
  3. At the end, string three or more bells onto the ends of the shoelaces and knot the shoelaces together to hold the braid closed.
  4. Alternately, you can knot the braid at the end and tie a group of bells to the end.
  5. The end with the bells becomes the top of the bookmark.

Picture Book Review

August 7 – National Lighthouse Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-miss-colfax's-light-cover

About the Holiday

Lighthouses have been in use since the earliest days of sea-going vessels. Built to warn sailors of dangerous and damaging rocks and reefs, these sentinels are a picturesque and fascinating part of history. From man—and woman—tended lights to today’s automated systems, lighthouses are a beacon of inspiration and imagination.

Miss Colfax’s Light

Written by Aimée Bissonette | Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen

 

In 1861 when Harriet Colfax’s brother fell ill and decided to leave Indiana, Harriet had two options: she could leave with him—after all she had come to Indiana with him and worked with him at their newspaper—or she could stay on as the lighthouse keeper of the Michigan City Lighthouse, making $350 a year. Most women might have chosen to leave, but Harriet did not want to give up her independence or leave her best friend, Ann. She took the job as lighthouse keeper even though many in town thought she was too weak or too inexperienced to do the work.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-miss-colfax's-light-Michigan-city-lighthouse

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, courtesy of sleepingbearpress.com

Harriet knew the ships on the sometimes wild waters of Lake Michigan—one of the northern United States’ Great Lakes—relied on the lighthouse to keep them from danger. Twice every night she had to carry “whale oil in a bucket up narrow stairs to the top of the lantern tower” to refill the light and then polish the Fresnel lens. During the day, she “cleaned and painted…varnished the woodwork and shined the brass…and wrote notes in her log.”

It didn’t matter if Harriet was tired or sick or if winter storms rocked the shore, Harriet’s work went on. In 1871 a beacon light was installed at the end of the Michigan City east pier. Now in addition to the main lighthouse, Harriet had to keep this signal lit too. To do so required a long walk down a wooden catwalk that jutted far out into the lake. At times the freezing water roiled and splashed over the catwalk, making the walk tricky and dangerous. By this time lard had replaced whale oil as fuel. While it was cheaper and easier to get, it also had to be heated to pour. Sometimes on frigid winter nights “the lard oil hardened in the cold and Harriet had to fight back through the wind to reheat the oil” on her stove.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-miss-colfax's-light-harriet-adding-oil

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, courtesy of sleepingbearpress.com

In 1874 the beacon light was moved to the west pier—farther away. Instead of being within walking distance, Harriet now had to “row a small boat across a creek, hike the far shore, and cross a longer catwalk to light the beacon light.” One night in 1886 storms raged as Harriet made her way down the west pier. “Driving sleet covered her coat with ice. Sand from the dunes along the lake pelted Harriet’s face, stinging her cheeks. Her boots slipped and slid on the catwalk.” Only moments after she finished filling the beacon light and stepped off the catwalk, “a deafening screech filled the air” as the beacon tower “ripped from its moorings and crashed into the lake.”

Harriet’s dedication to the Michigan City Lighthouse continued every day and every night for 43 years. People in town came to call the landmark “Miss Colfax’s Light,” and ship captains named it “Old Faithful.” Over the years her vantage point on the tip of the shore allowed Harriet to experience more than stormy seas. She also saw “brilliant sunsets, lunar eclipses, and silent, dancing northern lights. She saw tall-masted schooners with white sails give way to steamships of iron and steel.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-miss-colfax's-light-meeting-a-ship-captain

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, courtesy of sleepingbearpress.com

In 1904, when Harriet was 80 years old, the Michigan City Lighthouse underwent a renovation. It acquired a fog signal, and the oil-burning mechanism was replaced with a steam engine and boilers with huge coal-fired furnaces that required several keepers. Although Harriet was sad to leave her life as a lighthouse keeper behind, she understood. With the same bravery that had brought her to the lighthouse, she opened the door and stepped out to what came next.

The life of Harriet Colfax needs no embellishment to reveal the kind of determination and dedication it took to keep the Michigan City Lighthouse shining. Aimée Bissonette tells this brave woman’s story straightforwardly, focusing on particular moments when her duties were increased or her resolve challenged. Harriet’s personal motto that kept her going: “I can do this” is repeated throughout the book, echoing the revolving beacon that shines continuously on the shore of Lake Michigan. Actual entries from Harriet’s log punctuate the text, lending authenticity and Harriet’s voice to the story.Children will be fascinated by this snapshot of American (and world) history.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-miss-colfax's-light-harriet

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, courtesy of sleepingbearpress.com

Eileen Ryan Ewen’s action-filled paintings of Harriet and her work beautifully demonstrate to readers Harriet’s incredible will and perseverance under the most difficult circumstances. The narrow stairs of the lighthouse pose daunting in the middle of the night; the seas of Lake Michigan surge and lap at Harriet and the winds buffet her as she navigates the catwalk; and an exhausted Harriet stands at the stove melting lard to light the lens. Children interested in ships and the sea will find much here to excite their imaginations.

An author’s note about Harriet Colfax follows the text along with a glossary of terms used in the book.

Ages 6 – 9

Sleeping Bear Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1585369553

Meet Aimée Bissonette and learn more about her books and work on her website!

To view Eileen Ryan Ewen‘s portfolio, sketchbook, and other books, visit her website!

National Lighthouse Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lighthouse-coloring-sheet

Lighthouse Coloring Page

 

Lighthouses are a striking part of any seashore landscape. Here is a printable Lighthouse Coloring Page for you to decorate!