Sophie Blackall

Hello Lighthouse

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Hello Lighthouse Summary

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Hello Lighthouse is a 2018 children’s picture book illustrated and written by American author Sophie Blackall. It tells the story of an old lighthouse “built to last forever” that has been passed down through time. As the world around the lighthouse changes, it remains singularly symbolic and useful, beckoning home all of the people adrift at sea. Set in the present day, the book focuses on the lighthouse’s last keeper before its operations are modernized and automated. The book comforts its readers that roles and ideas like that of the lighthouse will survive the test of time, showing how they are fixed in our collective memory. Hello Lighthouse won the 2019 Caldecott Medal, marking it as the most distinguished American children’s picture book of the year. Blackall has noted that she wrote the book in response to the fear and instability she felt after the 2016 United States Presidential election.

Hello Lighthouse is illustrated in ink and watercolor. Blackall was inspired to use these media by Chinese art traditions that use water-based techniques to add lightness and movement to images. The book’s narrator has a nostalgic voice, making spare use of words, and mirroring the content of the lighthouse keeper’s daily diary. The text is displayed in tall columns, matching the shape of the lighthouse. It makes heavy use of repetition, particularly the phrase “Hello!…Hello!…Hello!”, which evokes the greeting the lighthouse makes to ships as its beam passes over them. On each page, the lighthouse is fixed in the same spot, signifying its constancy as the world changes around it. Though her voice is nostalgic, the narrator looks back in time in celebration of the lighthouse’s past rather than in mourning for the history that has gone by.

Hello Lighthouse begins, “On the highest rock of a tiny island at the edge of the world stands a lighthouse. It is built to last forever.” The lighthouse is visited by its latest keeper, who joins a line of diligent keepers stretching back into the distant past. The keeper makes a home within the lighthouse’s walls, attending to the job of maintaining it day by day. To keep track of things, he keeps a detailed log. The log includes not only the routines of the keeper’s job, but also the changes in his life. He falls in love and gets married. One day, he rescues a group of people who almost drown after their ship sinks into the ocean. Later, he and his wife give birth to a baby.

The narrator alternates the lighthouse keeper’s log and day-to-day thoughts with descriptions of the changing ocean. The illustrations of the ocean match each mood and occasion; for example, when the keeper is sick, the ocean is uneasy beneath a cloudy sky. At the end of the story, the lighthouse keeper’s job becomes obsolete. Engineers install a system that allows the lighthouse to operate itself. Though the keeper is sad to leave his home behind, he moves with his family to the mainland just a short distance across the waves from the lighthouse’s island. From there, they watch the lighthouse, which continues to beckon to anyone who needs to find home. The book’s ending suggests that the lighthouse is, indeed, “built to last forever,” both physically and in the hearts of those who encounter it.