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Book Reviews

Keeper of the Light

by Janet Barkhouse; Thérèse Cilia (ill.)

Since her father’s death at sea, Sara has been forced to leave school and work for Mr. Mosher, the lighthouse keeper, to help her mother make ends meet. It’s hard work: getting up early, lighting the wood stove, feeding and milking the cows, keeping the lighthouse lamp clean and filling it with kerosene. On the day before her 12th birthday, Mr. Mosher falls ill and has to be taken to the mainland for treatment just as a storm is blowing up. Sara must stay and keep the lighthouse operating all by herself. Can she do it?

indexWorking steadily through the storm, Sara operates the foghorn when a passing boat trumpets distress in the lashing rain. But her greatest challenge comes when she spots a sailor clinging to a damaged boat and rows out in the storm to save him. Just when she’s sure that she doesn’t have the strength to row back to shore, her father’s voice echoing in her head urges her on, and she succeeds.

Based on experiences of children who worked at lighthouses in the 1920s, Keeper of the Light is a remarkable story about an intrepid young girl whose perseverance and physical strength will amaze modern readers. Author Janet Barkhouse’s text vividly portrays Sara’s maritime world, where she must put on her Sou’wester and oilskin slicker to crank the lever on the foghorn out in the rain. But Sara is also a likeable main character whose sadness at having her “birthday holiday” at home pre-empted by the storm and the Moshers’s emergency feels very real.

Thérèse Cilia’s illustrations depict the fascinating details of the lighthouse’s domestic spaces and are full of action, capturing both the changing moods of sky and sea and the emotions of Sara and the Moshers. Unfortunately, text superimposed on some of the illustrations is too light and difficult to read. Nevertheless, young readers will be drawn to this captivating tale and its feisty protagonist.