Alice B. McGinty | Learn all about running a lighthouse

Alice B. McGinty | Learn all about running a lighthouse

There has been excitement buzzing in the children's book industry since the American Library Association recently announced its 2019 Youth Media Awards.

The winner of the esteemed Caldecott Medal, given to the year's most distinguished American picture book for children, was "Hello Lighthouse" (2018, Little Brown Books for Young Readers, written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, ages 4-9).

Blackall, who won the Caldecott Medal in 2016 for her picture book "Finding Winnie," introduces us to the setting with soft, detailed watercolors showing the sturdy white lighthouse shining its beam of yellow light above an endless sea. "On the highest rock of a tiny island/at the edge of the world stands a lighthouse ... From dusk to dawn, the lighthouse beams./Hello!/...Hello!/...Hello!/Hello, Lighthouse!"

When a new lightkeeper arrives on the next page, we see him, anxious and eager, entering the building as a cut-away illustration shows each room, one above the other. The keeper polishes the lens on the light, refills the oil, writes in his log book, and listens to the gathering wind as it blows "Hello!...Hello!...Hello!"

Days pass, and he wishes for someone to talk to. So he throws letters to her into the waves and waits for her reply. Then one day a tender comes with flour, pork, beans ... and his wife! Now the keeper sets the table for two.

As the story progresses, the illustrations go from scenes inside the lighthouse to those outside, with swirling text and light beaming across the changing sea and sky. And when disaster strikes and a ship crashes, the keeper rows out and pulls three sailors from the deep, black sea. Later, he becomes ill and his wife tends to him, "is everywhere all at once/running up and down spiral stairs" feeding him broth and ice chipped from the lantern room windows.

Time passes. Next it is the lightkeeper boiling water and helping his wife breathe, noting in the log book the birth of their child. The warmth and love shines in the close-up painting of mother, father and baby.

When the tender arrives again with supplies and mail, however, an unexpected letter tells them of upcoming change. Soon the Coast Guard comes with a brand-new light and a machine to operate it, and the keeper's work is done.

"Good-bye Lighthouse! Good-bye!/... Good-bye!/... Good-bye!" they say. But the story is not over. As the lighthouse beams across the bay, another light beams back. "Hello, Lighthouse!" we read. And we see the family, looking out across the waves from their new home, the child holding a small light of her own.

This engaging, lyrical book is not only artistically lovely, it also brings to life an important piece of history, showing the work of a lighthouse keeper and the importance of lighthouses.

We end with an author's note about how Blackall became interested in lighthouses and the many things she learned about them — and their keepers — during her research.

If you're looking for more award-winning books to read, four Caldecott Honor books also were named: "Alma and How She Got Her Name" (Candlewick Press, illustrated and written by Juana Martinez-Neal), "A Big Mooncake for Little Star" (Little Brown, illustrated and written by Grace Lin), "The Rough Patch" (Greenwillow Books, illustrated and written by Brian Lies) and "Thank You, Omu!" (Little Brown, illustrated and written by Oge Mora).

Alice B. McGinty (alicebmcginty.com) is the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children and the recipient of the 2017 Illinois Reading Council's Prairie State Award for Excellence in Writing for Children. Each summer, McGinty runs a writing camp for teens, Words on Fire.

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