Award-Winning AWB (Award-Winning-Books) 2012 Books GB Challenges Girl Power and Women's Wiles Picture Book Challenge 2012 Picture Books Reading Themes

PPBF: Birdie’s Lighthouse by Deborah Hopkinson and Illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root

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.

Birdie’s Lighthouse 

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
: Historical Fiction, picture book
ThemesGirl power, courage, persistence, sense of responsibility, light house, families, diary format, historical fiction picture book

Opening Lines: 

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:

Grace Darling rescued nine people after a shipwreck in 1838. She lived with her family in Longstone Lighthouse off the coast of England. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Lime Rock Light, Newport, showing Ida Lewis. Heroine of many brave rescues. She died in 1911. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Abigail Burgess Grant, a lightkeeper from Maine, is said to be the one who is most like Birdie. As shared by Hopkinson in her Author's Notes: "In January 1856, when she was seventeen, Abbie kept the island's two towers lit for four stormy weeks while her father was away." Click on the image to be taken to the websource and a detailed biography of Abbie Burgess.

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.

Isn't this a glorious image of a lighthouse. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

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! 

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

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.

PictureBook Challenge Update: 47 of 120

Birdie’s Lighthouse was shortlisted for the Maine Library Association Lupine Award. Parents Choice Silver Honor Book.

AWB Reading Challenge Update: 33 of 35

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

16 comments on “PPBF: Birdie’s Lighthouse by Deborah Hopkinson and Illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root

  1. Love your selection, but I love historical fiction. Sounds like a beautiful book and it shows a girl coming of age and showing what she can do. I also am fascinated with light houses. Great choice for PPB.


  2. Historical fiction is a wonderful thing. Even more wonderful when it is a picture book story. These are the most important years and we’re shaping and molding these kidlets by what we write. All kids love light houses too. So that combo, plus Blueberry, make a great story for these yound eyes. Great choice. The text sings. Thank you. I’ll add it to my list. 🙂


    • Hi Robyn, I know what you mean. The first time I’ve seen historical fiction in picture book format, my eyes almost popped out of my head. Such ingenuity! Such extensive research and the beautiful illustrations, wow. This is a definite must-read.


  3. Fats Suela

    Love the pictures of lighthouses! 🙂


  4. I love the lighthouse pictures and have a thing about them (and a story I want to write!). This sounds like an empowering historical fiction story and I love diary format. The text sounds quite beautiful and woeful at times. Great choice, Myra; I want to read this one.


    • Hi Joanna, sounds like a promising story! Can’t wait to read your books soon. Yes, diary formats are also wonderful. We had an entire theme devoted to diaries in 2010 I believe.


  5. This is a beautiful review! When historical fiction is done well, it creates a very powerful story and introduction to interesting pieces of our past. This book sounds like one to have on the bookshelf and the art is lovely. Thank you!


    • Hi Heather, I am glad that you liked it. I love historical fiction in picture books and the fact that they encourage young readers to be more excited about history. Yes, the artwork is also lovely. 🙂


  6. Myra, this sounds amazing. I love lighthouses and the sound of the ocean as I’m falling asleep. What a brave girl Birdie needed to be at such a young age. Loving the girl power theme. Excellent choice and welcome to PPBF.
    A2ZMommy and What’s In Between


    • Hi Tracy, sometimes I think that I am a child of the ocean myself (although I don’t swim) – I love hearing the sound of the waves and it lulls me to sleep too. This is an empowering book that would undoubtedly inspire a lot of young girls. Thanks for the warm welcome to PPBF.


  7. What an amazing story. We lived near a lighthouse in Maryland, and we’ve often visited them here in the U.S. and abroad. This sounds like a book that perfectly captures the struggles and experience of living in a lighthouse. Thanks Myra!


  8. The illustrations are beautiful and I love the voice in the lines your shared. Lighthouses are beautiful to me, but I really never thought about the experience of living in one.


  9. Pingback: An April Round-Up: Reading Challenge Updates, Progressive Poetry, April AWB Winners and More… «

  10. Love the different images, especially the black and blue one. Lighthouses are so beautiful and I always start to conjure up stories when I see one.


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