About the Holiday
Lighthouses have been protecting ships at sea since earliest times. From fires to gas lamps to electric lights, these warning signals have alerted sailors to reefs, heavy fog, and other dangerous conditions. Once operated by keepers who lived in or near the lighthouse, these beautiful structures are now mostly run automatically. Their color, iconic shapes, and intriguing lore make lighthouses a favorite site along the shoreline. If you live near the water, celebrate today by visiting a local lighthouse museum. If you are more landlocked, do a little research or read a good book about lighthouses.
The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge
Written by Hildegarde H. Swift | Illustrated by Lynd Ward
The little lighthouse “was round and fat and red. It was fat and red and jolly. And it was VERY, VERY PROUD.” It stood between New York and the Hudson River, which carried boats of all kinds as it rolled on and on, looking for the sea. As the boats passed the little lighthouse, they talked to it. The big steamer had a deep booming voice while the narrow canoe spoke with a gentle whisper, and the tugboat always gave a cheery hello. The lighthouse did not answer during the day, but at night “a man came to tend the little red lighthouse.”
He opened the side door with a key from his jangling ring and “climbed its steep and winding stairs, up, up, up, to the very top. He took off the thick white cap that let it sleep by day.” He turned on the gas, and in a few minutes the lighthouse began to speak. “Flash! Flash! Flash! Look out! Watch me! Danger, danger, danger! Watch my rocks!” It felt very proud, knowing that the boats needed it to stay safe.
When a heavy fog descended, the keeper came and wound a big clock inside the lighthouse. The clock ran an iron bell that rang to warn the sailors who couldn’t see the lighthouse flashing. With two voices, the lighthouse felt even more proud. “I AM MASTER OF THE RIVER” it decided. But one day construction workers arrived. They dug and dug and then began building enormous girders that reached high into the sky. Then the men attached thin silver cables to the structure. When the cables were in place, the men celebrated. The little lighthouse didn’t know what was happening.
At night, the lighthouse continued to speak with its flashing and ringing voices. During the day, it watched as the huge gray thing grew larger and larger. It was wonderful and powerful, thought the lighthouse. Soon the bridge spanned the Hudson River from shore to shore. “It made the little red lighthouse feel very, very small.”
Then one night a great, bright light shown from the top of one of the bridge’s towers. “Flash! Turn! Flash!” it said in a loud voice. The lighthouse thought it was not needed anymore. Its light was so little while the bridge’s was so big. The lighthouse worried that the keeper would forget to turn its light on or that it would even be torn down. That night as it got darker and darker, the keeper did not come. The lighthouse felt strange.
That night a storm roiled the sea. It threatened the boats, and though they looked for the little red lighthouse, they couldn’t find it. There was no bell, and the fog was so thick the bridge light couldn’t shine through. The tug hit the rocks and was smashed. The bridge called down to the lighthouse, “‘Little brother, where is your light?’” The lighthouse was surprised. It told the bridge that it thought it wasn’t needed anymore. But the bridge explained that its light was to alert airplanes, not the ships far below it. “‘You are still master of the river,’” the bridge said. “‘Quick, let your light shine again.’”
But the lighthouse couldn’t turn itself on. It was afraid that the keeper would never come again, and that this was the end for it. Suddenly, the lighthouse heard jangling keys and running steps. It was the keeper hurrying to turn on the light. “‘This will never happen again,’” the man said. Now the lighthouse realized that is was needed. It sent its beam out into the dark night, and soon its bell began to toll too. The lighthouse was glad and even thought it knew it was little, it was “still VERY, VERY PROUD.”
Hildegarde H. Swift’s classic story of the Hudson River lighthouse will enchant readers. The little red lighthouse makes a charming narrator for its tale that teaches kids about the importance of lighthouses while also showing them that even though one may be little, they can still have a profound effect on those around them. The pride and worries of the lighthouse will resonate with young readers, and they will cheer when the light is turned back on and the lighthouse regains its proper place. Swift’s lyrical language will keep children riveted to this fictionalized account of a historical event.
Lynd Ward’s evocative illustrations, rendered in red, blue, black, and white, are both strong and whimsical and seem as fresh today as they were when the book was first published. Features on the ships, lighthouse, and bridge make organic faces, personalizing these characters for children, while Ward’s depiction of the storm as a specter grasping at ships is striking and emphasizes the importance of the lighthouse.
The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge is a multi-layered story for all readers. Children interested in lighthouses, bridges, boats, and construction will be especially drawn to this book.
Ages 4 – 7
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2002 | ISBN 978-0152045715 (hardcover); 978-0152045739 (paperback)
National Lighthouse Day Activity
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.