________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 33 . . . . May 5, 2017


Keeper of the Light.

Janet Barkhouse. Illustrated by Thérèse Cilia.
Halifax, NS: Formac, 2016.
32 pp., hardcover, $16.95.
ISBN 978-1-4595-0464-6.

Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4-7.

Review by Meredith Cleversey.

***½ /4



Sara woke before sunrise. Waves lapped softly against the rocks under Cook Island Lighthouse. Today, I'll be sailing over those waves, Sara thought. I'll be on my way home for a whole week's holiday! I wish…I wish Papa could be here.

Sara's papa was a fisherman, but one day last year he had drowned at sea. Now Sara lived in the Cook Island lighthouse, working for Mr. and Mrs. Mosher, instead of living on the Nova Scotia mainland and going to school with her friends. Her mother needed the money to support Sara's two little brothers, Jack and Henry.

      When Sara awakes on August 21, 1925, she's thrilled to be starting a holiday break from her job helping the Moshers tend the Cook Island lighthouse. A young girl taken out of school and put into employment after her fisherman father died at sea, Sara's ready to join her family on the mainland to celebrate her birthday. But when Mr. Mosher falls unexpectedly ill, Sara not only finds herself stuck at the lighthouse for another day—she's all alone during a storm when the seas grow dangerous and the lighthouse's beam is the only thing standing between the sailing ships and the rocky shore.

      Keeper of the Light is a historical fiction picture book about the life of a young working girl in 1920s Nova Scotia. Sara misses the life she once had as a child at school while living with her family on the mainland. Working to help support her mother and younger brothers now that her father has died, Sara finds her life to be busy and hard, and she often finds her abilities tested. When she thinks she's about to leave for a short holiday at home, she finds herself instead left alone to tend the lighthouse and everything that comes with it, tasks that include feeding the animals, cleaning, and helping to guide ships being tossed by the stormy waves.

      Sara is a strong character, and the fact that her life mirrors the life of many working girls from the 1920s will astonish readers. Barkhouse does a good job of showcasing the abundant amount of work Sara must accomplish in a day. Even when she thinks she's going home, Sara still starts her morning by working in the kitchen, and the duties of her job range from fire stoking to cow milking to cleaning the lighthouse lantern. These tasks are explained in depth, detailing how things are cleaned and introducing readers to terminology they might not be familiar with. For instance, when Sara is cleaning the lighthouse lantern, Barkhouse outlines each step of the process, explaining how Sara cleans the funnel and then pours kerosene into the lamp's reservoir before winding up the spring that makes metal bars revolve around the lamp. While some readers may feel the amount of explanation distracts from the flow of the story, many readers will find the historical detail enjoyable and interesting.

      Thérèse Cilia's illustrations perfectly capture the tone of Sara's story. The heavy use of blues and greys gives the scenery a sometimes calm and sometimes gloomy feel that matches both the plot and the setting. When Sara is inside, the blue on the walls and floors is offset with cheerful yellow from a lamp's glow or a kitchen's bright wallpaper. When she's outside, the grey sky slowly closes over the pale yellow of the sun, the colours growing darker as the storm rolls in. The illustrations are also full of the same historical details that abound in the text, from the decorations in the house to the equipment used for pumping water and blaring the lighthouse's foghorn. These are nice inclusions that accent the words of the story and help bring readers into Sara's world.

      Keeper of the Light is a tender, entertaining account of a day both normal and extraordinary for a young girl in 1920s Nova Scotia. The historical details of both the text and the illustrations make this an intriguing book for those looking to learn more about Canada's coastal past. Readers will enjoy spending time with Sara, a sweet girl who is strong and brave as she faces, and achieves, the mighty task of running a lighthouse on her own.

Highly Recommended.

Meredith Cleversey, a librarian in Cambridge, ON, loves to read, write, and live in a world of pure imagination.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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