Today marks the second time that I am joining Susanna Leonard Hill‘s Perfect Picture Book Friday. My picture book choice is in keeping with our current bimonthly theme on Girl Power and Women’s Wiles which is ongoing until the first week of May.
Story by: Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrator: Kimberly Bulcken Root
Reading Level: Ages 3-10
Publisher: Anne Schwartz Book – Atheneum Books for Young Readers (1997)
Reading Level: Ages 3-9 and above
Genre: Historical Fiction, picture book
Themes: Girl power, courage, persistence, sense of responsibility, light house, families, diary format, historical fiction picture book
1855 January 15
My name is Bertha Holland, but most folks call me Birdie. Before Papa went to sea, he gave me this pretty diary for my birthday. My cat, Blueberry, likes it almost as much as I do – but only to sit upon!
I was born ten years ago today, here in our cottage by the sea. Hannah Flowers, the midwife, told me the waves roared awful loud that night, right up till I was born. Then they softened and lulled me to sleep. Old Hannah says that means I’m kin to the ocean.
Synopsis: Bertha Holland is nicknamed Birdie by her family. She is ten years old, has a cat named Blueberry, and is a child of the sea. Her father is a fisherman, while her mother stays at home taking care of her, little Janey and older brother Nate. Things changed for her entire family when her father came in one night announcing that he has been offered the job of a lighthouse keeper, which means that their entire family is moving to Turtle Island. The reader gets to see how Birdie begins contemplating on how life would be like in an island all by themselves, to her gradually adjusting to seeing nothing but the sea and bare, empty boulders around her, and the lighthouse tower.
As Nate starts on his own journey of becoming a fisherman, it was Birdie who started learning from their father how to fill the tower’s fourteen lamps with whale oil, how to polish the silvery reflectors, and how to trim the wicks at midnight so the lamps burn steady throughout the dark night. Birdie’s skills were put to the test when her father fell ill at the exact same time that a bad storm is coming and her brother Nate’s boat goes missing. Will Birdie be able to rise up to the challenge? I invite you to read through the entire book to discover for yourself.
Why I like this Book: I find the notion of lighthouses very romantic and radiant in all its quiet isolation, standing firm and tall amidst the raging sea and the inclement weather. And to have a young girl, Birdie, be the ten year old mistress of this lighthouse at a time when she is most needed, I believe, is an inspiration.
As Birdie’s father’s sickness turns for the worse, I was particularly struck by these lines:
Mama sits by Papa’s bed all the time, Janey beside her. I tend the lamps alone, and listen for Nate’s bell.
The sea is never still. Sometimes it roars so loud it drowns our voices. Mama says there hasn’t been a storm this fierce since the night I was born. She thinks it too dangerous for me to go to the tower again. Yet what else can I do? I’m the lightkeeper now.
For some reason, these lines signaled the end of childhood for me, and it evoked a feeling of profound sadness and pride too, at Birdie’s resoluteness and her quiet whispers to the roaring waves: “Please don’t be so angry”. I have a ten year old girl, and I sense that sooner than I would like, she won’t be my ‘little girl’ any longer – that eventually, she will have to make her own decisions and be responsible for those choices.
I also enjoyed the fact that this book took on a diary-format. It reminded me of the time when we discovered and reviewed quite a number of books with a Diary Theme here in Gathering Books in 2010. While this particular book has been critiqued by a few experts with the claim that the textual narrative didn’t sound like a ten year old, the same critique was qualified with the observation that the “nuances of feeling and historical detail shine throughout” (source here). I also love the fact that women can literally be perceived as ‘bringers of light’ through this picture book – guiding lost sailors on their way home as they wage a war with the winds, the raging tides, and the turbulent seas.
Teacher Resources. The Author’s Note found at the end of the book shared that while Birdie Holland is not a real person, her story “was inspired by many true-life lighthouse heroines.” Deborah Hopkinson went on to share a few lifehouse heroines that students in school can research on. Here are a few:
I was not able to find teacher resources that are directly linked with this particular book. However, there are a variety of online resources that teachers can still make use of, such as this list of Student Activities prepared by the Key West Lighthouse Museum which introduces students to maritime history and the functions of lighthouses. It was also the intention of the Key West Art and Historical Society to expand students’ knowledge of Key west history and life in the late 1800s and as such they included Birdie’s Lighthouse as one of the books that students can make use of.
The Long Island Chapter of the United States Lighthouse Society has this amazing list of Lighthouse Educational Resources Links (not all links are working though). I also discovered this downloadable pdf file which features A Teacher’s Resource for Teaching Coast Guard History. I was also fascinated by this website which showcases beautiful lighthouse photos, a few of which I am sharing with you here. Enjoy them!
Have you been to a lighthouse? Do share with us your experience.
Birdie’s Lighthouse written by Deborah Hopkinson and Illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root. An Anne Schwartz Book: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1997. Book borrowed from the community library. Book photos taken by me.
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Birdie’s Lighthouse was shortlisted for the Maine Library Association Lupine Award. Parents Choice Silver Honor Book.
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