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Picture Book Review – Keeper of the Light

 

KEEPER OF THE LIGHT:
JULIET FISH NICHOLS FIGHTS THE SAN FRANCISCO FOG

Written by Caroline Arnold

Illustrated by Rachell Sumpter

(Cameron Kids; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Keeper of the Light cover with bell machine

 

 

 

Keeper of the Light written by Caroline Arnold and illustrated by Rachell Sumpter is a fascinating, “fictionalized account based on true events and historical documents about Juliet Fish Nichols …” I love learning about historical figures, especially women who had non-traditional careers, whose stories might never be told were it not for an inquisitive picture book author.

 

Keeper of the Light int1 climbing 151 steps
Interior spread from Keeper of the Light written by Caroline Arnold and illustrated by Rachell Sumpter, Cameron Kids ©2022.

 

A widow at 42 and in need of a steady income, Juliet Fish Nichols worked for over a decade as Keeper of Angel Island Light Station in San Francisco Bay. Author Arnold presents an engaging interpretation of several years of Nichols’ life there—Point Knox to be precise—in log format so that readers can gain insight into the important responsibilities she was tasked with. This not only involved making sure the lamp (visible for up to 13 miles) was filled with oil, clean, and in working order but when needed, operating the fog bell machine.

Life may have been simple and calm most of the time but it could suddenly change when the weather grew foggy as it was wont to do. When that happened, Nichols had one thing in mind: Keep the boats safe. Then, on April 18, 1906, a horrendous earthquake rocked San Francisco. Buildings tumbled to the ground and deadly fires broke out all over the city. Nichols helped by hanging her lamp to guide the way for ferries transporting people to safety.

 

Keeper of the Light int2 San Fran earthquake
Interior spread from Keeper of the Light written by Caroline Arnold and illustrated by Rachell Sumpter, Cameron Kids ©2022.

 

On July 2 of that same year, as early as midday, fog began rolling in …

 

Keeper of the Light int3 thick fog
Interior spread from Keeper of the Light written by Caroline Arnold and illustrated by Rachell Sumpter, Cameron Kids ©2022.

 

When the fog’s vast thickness rendered the fog light useless to keep boats from crashing into the rocks the clang, clang of the bell could be heard. But it soon stopped. Nichols realized the bell machine was broken but there was no time to get help or repairs. The keeper had no choice but to grab a mallet and strike the bell herself … every fifteen seconds, throughout the night … for over 20 long hours … until the fog lifted. Nichols’ selfless efforts likely saved hundreds of lives that day when people were still recovering from April’s tragedy.

 

 

Keeper of the Light int4 ringing bell
Interior spread from Keeper of the Light written by Caroline Arnold and illustrated by Rachell Sumpter, Cameron Kids ©2022.

 

Sumpter’s warm-toned illustrations with a watercolor style perhaps mixed with pastels took me back in time to the turn of the twentieth-century San Francisco Bay area. They add atmosphere and tension in all the right places and, together with Arnold’s text, make this such an interesting read. We learn from the Author’s Note in the back matter that Nichols’ logs do exist but this fictionalized version makes them accessible to children by focusing on a few significant events during her 12-year tenure as keeper. I now want to visit Angel Island like Arnold did to see where this amazing woman lived and worked and to see firsthand the giant bell that, with Nichols’ help, saved so many from perishing.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review – Terrific Table Manners

 

TERRIFIC TABLE MANNERS

Written by Michelle Markel

Illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard

(Cameron Kids; $17.99, Ages 5-7)

 

 

 

 

As the busy holiday season approaches, I can’t think of a more timely book to share with your children than Terrific Table Manners, a humorous 64-page illustrated manual written by Michelle Markel with art by Merrilee Liddiard. The publisher’s blurb says, “Inspired by the classic Tiffany’s primer on manners for teens and featuring a familiar cast of characters, Terrific Table Manners is a modern take on table etiquette that follows the course of a proper dinner-party meal.”

To expand on that introduction, I’ll add how enjoyable I found this thoroughly modern approach to 21st-century manners geared for a younger reader. The primer is presented in rhyme (with a smattering of snark) and complemented by retro art with ample white space, lovely linework, and warm tones in a watercolor style. Aptly beginning with the invitation and RSVP chapters, Terrific Table Manners proceeds to the meal itself including the main course, vegetables, and dessert through to the dare-I-say dreaded and oft avoided thank you note.

 

Terrific Table Manners int1
Interior spread from Terrific Table Manners written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard, Cameron Kids ©2021.

 

Kids will learn about what to do and what not to do at a dinner party as they’re guided through by Mr. Faris (who went to manners school in Paris) and his co-host/teacher Prudence at the School of Manners and Etiquette. Together these instructors also cover essentials such as making conversation to which silverware to use for which course. That’s not all that matters during a meal. I was delighted to see cell phones mentioned and by mentioned I mean recommended to be shut off! “Cut the chicken off the bone. Bella, please turn off your phone.” While I did wonder how many 5-7 year-olds (the target audience) have telephones, I figured this might be a book an older tween sibling would enjoy since good manners apply to all ages.

 

 

Terrific Table Manners int2
Interior art from Terrific Table Manners written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard, Cameron Kids ©2021.

 

One of my favorite lines in the book happens during the main course. “Don’t hold utensils with your fists! Only cavemen eat like this!” Sound familiar? As the dinner-party class progresses, the children get more out-of-hand and the teacher/hosts become more frustrated and exhausted. Young readers and their parents may find this aspect the most relatable. Having kids sit still at a meal has often been a sore point in many families, and holiday time is no exception. Keeping chaos at bay is crucial to the etiquette pros but ultimately they don’t succeed as witnessed in the last two closing spreads.

 

 

Terrific Table Manners int3
Interior spread from Terrific Table Manners written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard, Cameron Kids ©2021

 

 

Perhaps all has not been for naught when readers see the lovely thank you notes at the end. Will children finish the book and admit they’ve gleaned a tip or two? We can only hope so! The two pages of back matter detail specific aspects of a dinner party, gently encouraging kids to use proper etiquette and see what a difference it makes even at home and in restaurants. 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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