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Book Review – Lighthouse Girl

January 6, 2011
Lighthouse Girl

From Fremantle Press

Lighthouse Girl by Dianne Wolfer, Illustrated by Brian Simmonds, Fremantle Press.

I have a thing for beautiful picture books.  I buy beautiful picture books for the children in my life, because I think they make the world a better place.  When I was reading this one, I said to my daughter “This is the sort of book I would have bought for you”.  Interesting that now my children are grown up, I’m buying them for myself.  I bought this book in my recent book buying spree.

This is a children’s book.  But it’s not ‘just’ a children’s book.  It made me cry.  The first beautiful picture book I bought for my daughter, back in 1986/87 when she was only a few weeks old, was Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas – incidentally, now one of my favourite illustrators.  I saw it being read on ‘Here’s Humphrey’ while I was sitting breastfeeding my baby daughter with the television on.  It made me cry.  So I went out to a local wonderful children’s bookshop that I think no longer exists, and told the woman there that I saw a book on ‘Here’s Humphrey’ about a boy with four names and I had to have it.  She knew the book I meant immediately.

If you haven’t heard of Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge before, you can see it here – audio book with illustrations.  You’ll see what I mean.

Lighthouse Girl is a somewhat fictionalised story of the life of a real girl who lived at the lighthouse on Breaksea Island off Albany, Fay Catherine Howe.  There are stunning charcoaly drawings to illustrate the narrative parts of the story, which is interspersed with excerpts from Fay’s fictional journal.  The journal entries are illustrated with real photographs of the time – which is the outbreak of the first World War, and Gallipoli.

I have had a problem with ANZAC Day for a while now.  I have a problem with the glorification of war, generally.  And war – I have a problem with that too.  But this book relates the story from the perspective of a young girl, who experienced the outbreak of war initially as a distant onlooker.  The war became central to her experience at the time through the personal, but distant relationships she developed with young soldiers, when she began signalling to them from Breaksea Island, while the transport ships were gathered in the Sound, awaiting departure.  The soldiers signalled messages to her, and her father allowed her to telegraph those messages to their families and loved ones.

If I was trying to explain to a child or young person of today, what ANZAC Day was all about, this is the book I would use.  Young men throwing bottles overboard with messages inside, as a last-ditch effort to communicate with their loved ones at home, as the ships they were on steamed their way to places they had only possibly heard of and imagined before, not knowing if they would get another opportunity to communicate again, was heart-wrenching.  My own son is 19 years old.  The thought of him ever experiencing anything like that is too terrifying to contemplate.

Obviously, life goes on, or we wouldn’t be here today.  But the way the Anzac experience has shaped the Australia that we know today had as much to do with the fortitude and resilience of those who stayed at home as it did with the bravery or bravado of the young men who went to war.

I highly recommend this book – whether you have a child in your life who needs another glorious picture book, or whether you’re into self-indulgent picture book love, like I am.  Or even if you have a spare half hour at the library.  But especially if you are a teacher of young children.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sandy Bishop permalink
    January 8, 2011 4:26 pm

    I also have a problem with ANZAC day, but this book has solved it; some things are beyond our power to influence, and wars such as the Great War are in that realm. Fay was not in a position to even have an opinion on war; it was simply something that was happening around her which shaped her world.
    And I agree with you that ‘Wilfred Gordon Mcdonald Partridge’ is a very beautiful book. So is ‘John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat’. Gorgeous. I only kept the children’s books that I love and these two have made the cut.

    • snpdragon permalink*
      January 8, 2011 4:39 pm

      Ahh, I don’t think I’ve seen John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat. I don’t know how I could have missed it. Something to look forward to 🙂 Another one that I’ve kept is the Little Mouse, the Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear (or something along those lines). Beautiful illustrations. I also loved the Alfie and Annie Rose books – but my kids not so much. I think the illustrations reminded me of MY childhood.


  1. Book Review – An Eyewitness Account of Gallipoli « Michelle's Heritage
  2. On this day… 25 April – ANZAC day « Michelle's Heritage

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