“On the highest rock of a tiny island
at the edge of the world stands a lighthouse.
It is built to last forever,
Sending its light out to sea.”
Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall (Hachette Australia) is shortlisted for the 2020 CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award.
This picture book has a timeless, classic feel and tells the story of life in a remote lighthouse and how the keeper maintains the building. His routine is portrayed almost rhythmically to reflect the surrounding atmosphere of the ever-changing but endless ocean.
The lighthouse stands alone, tended by a succession of keepers. In Hello Lighthouse, this phase in its history focusses on the last keeper. He is industrious: polishing the lens, winding the clock, painting the round rooms and doing a myriad of other tasks that enable the lighthouse to function and warn ships of danger. A cutaway illustrates the interior levels and spiral staircase like an opening into a secret place for the reader to peer inside.
The keeper writes to his wife every few days and places the letters into bottles, which he throws into the sea. Writing is the main form of record keeping and communication. He also writes in the logbook.
The keeper is thrilled when his beloved wife arrives, and she shares some of the tasks. Together they help shipwrecked sailors, and also face illness and childbirth.
The title “Hello Lighthouse” indicates the refrain repeated throughout the story. The cry of “Hello!” reverberates between the lighthouse and the natural elements of wind, waves, ice, whales and aurora. There is comfort from the enduring natural forces, which become companions of a sort. One is never entirely alone. When it is time for the family to leave the lighthouse, hello becomes goodbye and a double-page spread unfolds to link their two homes.
The light is shown as a symbol: an enduring beacon of warmth and safety amidst tumult. The rounded shapes and lines in the illustrations mirror the circular lighthouse as well as the natural cycles. The patterns and textures of the sea and the characters’ experiences and emotions are often in affinity. Rich layers of story also emerge from the composition: symmetry, perspective and angles. Illustrated in Chinese ink and watercolours, these help evoke a strong response.
Young children and those sharing the story with them will understand that even though the lighthouse is unoccupied, it is remembered and cherished.
Author illustrator Sophie Blackall lives in New York but may not be widely known as being Australian. This will be redressed now that her work is shortlisted for the CBCA. Sophie is a New York Times bestselling illustrator and has won the prestigious Caldecott Medal and other awards. She has illustrated work by Meg Rosoff, as well as the Ivy & Bean series.
Possible classroom activities:
Message in a Bottle
It is important to maintain contact and community even when living alone or in isolated circumstances.
The lighthouse keeper puts messages into bottles.
Students write letters to someone they are missing.
The keeper would have used a factual style to write about different situations in the logbook. Make a class logbook about what students might be doing if they live in a lighthouse.
Different weather and waves feature in the story. Students find these in the book and view videos of waves. They could then make animations of waves.
Read other books by Sophie Blackall