Sophie Blackall – Hello Lighthouse

Orchard Books, an imprint of Hachette Children’s Group
England, 2019
Words and pictures by Sophie Blackall
Editor: Susan Rich
Designer: David Caplan and Nicole Brown
Shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards 2020, Picture Book of the Year category.

This book is also the winner of the 2019 Caldecott Medal, which annually recognises the preceding year’s most distinguished American picture book for children.

Everything about this book is beautiful from its singular shape reflecting the long tall lighthouse to its story and the glorious detailed pictures. I want to start at the end of the book with the author’s note. This author note is very much for parents to share with the children as or perhaps before they read the book together. It contains useful background information about lighthouses, the lives of their keepers and of the keepers’ families.

The lighthouse in Hello Lighthouse is based on one on a tiny island at the northern tip of Newfoundland.  In her story, Sophie Blackall lead us into the life of the island, the lighthouse at the edge of the world and the keeper through her beautiful illustrations. The eye is drawn from page to page by the rhythm of the pictures, the relentless flow of the sea, the changing light on sky and water.

We follow the new keeper through his day and night, the list of repeated chores needed to maintain this beacon, the meticulous attention of the man to his work. The wind whips up the white caps on the water and the keeper writes to his unnamed love and waits upon the grace of the waves to bring her reply. Withstanding storms and massive seas, the lighthouse stands tall and the keeper keeps the lantern glowing for the safety of sailors.

Finally, his wife arrives and the table is set for two. Fog obscures the seascape and the illustration perfectly reflects this obscurity. The tumult of a wrecked ship and the hospitable care of the keeper and his wife presage the coming of winter, the bravery and resourcefulness of the wife tending her sick husband and undertaking all of his keeper duties. Together they see in the birth of their child in a circular world of two now become three.

Life continues with the winding of the clockwork, but change is coming – automation means that bags are packed and farewells made to the circling gulls. And wordlessly, Sophie Blackall ends her story with the newly housed keeper and his family gazing from the mainland to the lighthouse across a sunset drenched sea. There is both comfort here and longing.

One wonders if the lonely and often dangerous life of the keeper is generally mourned or welcomed. The mystique of the lights and the keeper life endures in public consciousness, but amidst tales of madness and despair.

Say no more … you can tell how much I love this book.

The author/artist:

‘Sophie Blackall is an Australian artist and illustrator of children’s books based in Brooklyn, New York. She won the 2016 Caldecott Medal for Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear and the 2019 Medal for Hello LighthouseShe has illustrated more than 30 books for children, including the Ivy and Bean series. Blackall has collaborated with authors such as Jacqueline WoodsonJohn Bemelmans MarcianoJane Yolen, and Meg Rosoff. Her work also includes animated television commercials and editorial illustrations for newspapers and magazines. Blackall dislikes it when an author refers to an illustrated book as “my book”, feeling it diminishes the essential role of the illustrations.’  (Wikipedia)