PreS-Gr 2—In a story inspired by real journals, this picture book gives readers a fictional glimpse into the day-to-day activities of a dedicated lighthouse keeper. In 1902, Juliet Fish Nichols began working at Angel Island to guide ships safely to San Francisco. Set in a journal format, descriptive language and hazy illustrations put the readers in her place as she tends to the mundane, everyday chores, while "the fog, my foe," is a constant concern. Eventually, the story's pace picks up when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake hits, followed months later with the lighthouse's machinery breaking. Every 15 seconds, through a long night, Juliet must strike the bell to warn ships in the fog. Readers will admire her bravery and steadfastness, but might struggle to stay interested during the story's slower sections. The specialized focus may also narrow the audience to local readers. There are intriguing tidbits dropped along the way, like how both Nichols and her mother were lighthouse keepers at the same time in different locations, but those are not explained until the back matter. VERDICT For patient readers with a demonstrated interest in lighthouses or historical fiction.—Elissa Cooper
On Sept. 1, 1902, Juliet Fish Nichols began keeping a journal.
Newly installed as the lighthouse keeper on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, she enumerated her many duties, requiring physical strength, steadfastness, determination, and bravery. Every evening, she had to light the oil lamp and keep it shining all night long. On an April morning in 1906, the great San Francisco earthquake damaged the lighthouse, leaving Juliet heartbroken. A few months later, when the bay was saturated with a dangerous, impenetrable fog, the hand-cranked fog bell machine broke down, and Juliet had to manually strike the bell with a mallet every 15 seconds throughout the night to warn ships away from the rocks. Her journal entries, based on historical documents, appear in light, thin handwriting and illuminate her mostly solitary life, wholly dedicated to her important work and punctuated by times of terror and danger as well as occasional trips to the city across the bay for supplies. The story conveys Juliet’s deep appreciation for the beauty of the sea and the island’s landscape. Sumpter’s carefully composed double-page illustrations show the lighthouse, harbor, and city from a variety of perspectives and add detail and dimension to the narration. They show, for example, that the lighthouse was not a tower but a cottage with an attached bell house on a platform high on a cliff. Juliet presents White. (This book was reviewed digitally.)
A fascinating introduction to a once-celebrated, now lesser-known lightkeeper. (additional facts, further reading) (Picture-book biography. 7-9)