About the Holiday
For centuries along rocky shores, lighthouses have stood as sturdy beacons warning ships at sea of dangerous waters. In 1789, the United States Congress approved an Act for “the establishment and support of lighthouses, beacons, buoys and public piers and the commission of the first Federal lighthouse, the Cape Henry Lighthouse at Cape May, Virginia Beach.” Two hundred years later, the anniversary of this historic event was celebrated with another Congressional resolution sponsored by Senator John H. Chafee of Rhode Island, which designated August 7 as National Lighthouse Day. On this day, where possible, the country’s lighthouses are open to the public for viewing and tours. To celebrate today, visit a lighthouse if you live close by or read up on lighthouses and the work of brave lighthouse keepers throughout history.
By Sophie Blackhall
“On the highest rock of a tiny island at the edge of the world stands a lighthouse.” It is sturdy and shines its greeting far out to sea, “guiding the ships on their way.” “Hello! …Hello! …Hello!” The lighthouse has just gotten a new keeper. He begins his job by polishing the lens, refilling the oil, trimming the wick, and giving the “round rooms a fresh coat of sea-green paint.” He works at night too, making sure that the clockwork is wound to keep the lamp moving and writing in the logbook.
To have his tea, the keeper must boil his water and for lunch or dinner he fishes for cod right from the lighthouse window. He wishes for someone to talk to—the special someone he writes letters to. He puts these letter in bottles and throws them into the sea. Outside, the wind whips up the waves and they crash against the lighthouse.
One day, the keeper spies the tender ship that is bringing him “oil and flour and pork and beans…and his wife.” The next day fog descends, thick and gray. Instead of a beam of light, a bell clangs to warn the ships away. But, still, a ship founders and breaks apart on the rocks. “Not a moment to lose, the keeper rows out. He pulls three sailors from the deep, black sea. He and his wife wrap them in warm blankets and serve them hot tea. The keeper makes note of all this in his log.
In the winter, “the sea turns into a carpet of ice.” The keeper falls ill, and his wife tends to him as well as to the light. She runs up and down the spiral stairs to feed her husband broth and “chip ice off the lantern room windows.” At last his fever breaks. With warmer weather the ice melts, giving way to icebergs that float by going south. “Whales pass by on their journey north.”
Inside the lighthouse, the keeper’s wife is about to have a baby. She walks around and around, while “her husband boils water and helps her breath in—and out.” When the baby is born, the keeper notes the time and date in the logbook. “The sky erupts in swirls of green. Hello! …Hello! …Hello!”
The baby is a toddler when the tender brings an unexpected letter with the coast guard seal along with its regular supplies. After reading it, the keeper tends to the light “just as he’s always done,” but he “knows it’s not for long.” Through the telescope, the keeper and his wife watch the horizon for the arrival of the coast guard. When they come, they install a new light—one that runs by machine. There is “no lamp to fill, no wick to trim. The keeper’s work is done.”
He and his wife and little girl “pack their belongings into the boat and wave farewell to the gulls.” As they sail away on the ship, they look back and say “Good-bye, Lighthouse! Good-bye! …Good-bye! …Good-bye!” From its perch on the tiny island, the lighthouse sends out its constant beam through crashing waves and enveloping fog—”Hello! …Hello! …Hello?” From across the bay, a light from a little house “beams back. Hello! …Hello! …Hello! Hello, Lighthouse!”
An expensive and fascinating Author’s Note about lighthouses, the life of a lighthouse keeper, and how Hello Lighthouse came to be follows the text.
As I read Hello Lighthouse, I saw myself as a child—a displaced New Englander growing up in Florida who loved everything about the craggy northern coastline and its history. I would have absolutely adored Sophie Blackall’s detailed and atmospheric book, and today’s young readers will too. The story of the light’s last keeper reveals the work and contemplations of the men and families dedicated to keeping shipping lanes safe. The weather and seasons—and ever-present logbook—are characters in their own right, just as they were for the conscientious and brave lighthouse keepers. Happy surprises—the arrival of the keeper’s wife and baby—will delight children as they add to the depth of the story.
Blackall’s stunning illustrations will swell readers’ hearts with the same intensity as the rolling seas. A cutaway image of the lighthouse offers a realistic view of the five levels of living space accessed by a winding staircase that ultimately leads to the lens. Thrilling portrayals of choppy seas, wind-whipped crashing waves, pea-soup-thick fog, and sailors thrown from their wrecked ship will rivet children to the story. The cyclical nature of a keeper’s work mirrors the round rooms of the lighthouse and is represented throughout the story with circular, porthole-like snapshots of the keeper at work and round accents in the home, such as rugs, tables, and the quilt pattern on the couple’s bed. The final image of the family—the baby now a little girl—communicating with their old home anchors the story in history, togetherness, and a love of the sea.
Hello Lighthouse is a gorgeous, enlightening, and cozy read-aloud for home and classroom libraries that will enthrall young readers again and again.
Ages 4 – 9
Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018 | ISBN 978-0316362382
To learn more about Sophie Blackall, her books, and her art, visit her website.
National Lighthouse Day Activities
Lighthouse Coloring Page
This lighthouse perched by the sea is a beautiful reminder of the days when a keeper lived and worked at his lighthouse. Give this printable page some color and shine!
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.
You can find Hello Lighthouse at these booksellers
Picture Book Review