Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Children's Book Review, Lighthouse Girl

Children's Book Review by Rebecca Newman

Lighthouse Girl by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Brian Simmonds, published by Fremantle Press (2009). Review edition is a hardback ISBN 9781921361531 (the book is also available as a paperback $19.95, ISBN 9781921696572).

Fay is a lighthouse keeper's daughter - she lives with her father on a small island off Albany in Western Australia. As ships start leaving for World War I, Breaksea Island is the soldiers'  last glimpse of Australia. They send messages from the ships using semaphore and Fay later telegraphs the messages to their families. Then one soldier - Charlie - sends her a message, and the war becomes more personal for Fay.

My name is Charlie. They say you are sending messages to loved ones. I don’t have any loved ones. Can I send a message to you?
What is your name?

Fay and Charlie send postcards to each other and letters and postcards from other soldiers also start to arrive, addressed to 'the little girl on Breaksea Island'. She reads about her soldiers' travels from Egypt to Gallipoli and she worries about Charlie. Fay cooks for her father and the second lighthouse keeper, shoots rabbits when they are short of food, knits clothes for the war effort, and loads her donkey with supplies from the supply boat. She also writes in her diary - a birthday gift from her father. Then one day, a terrible letter arrives from the war office.

Wolfer weaves fact and fiction to tell Fay's story. The book is based on the real lighthouse girl, Fay Howe, and archival material such as newspaper clippings and old photographs are interspersed with a narrative, charcoal sketches, Fay's diary entries and the postcards. There is also a page showing semaphore code.

If you're looking for a book to add to an Anzac-themed collection, this is a gentle introduction to the concept of war and the impact war had on those waiting at home. Children in middle to upper primary school will find it interesting to compare Fay's day-to-day activities with their own.

Extensive and practical teachers' notes are available from the Fremantle Press site. (Wolfer and Simmonds also launched a companion book earlier this month - Light Horse Boy - which goes behind the scenes of the Light Horse legend).

BIO: Rebecca Newman lives in Perth with her husband and three children. She has always loved children's books (even more than books for grown-ups) and from 2008 until 2013 she was the publisher and editor of children's literary magazine, Alphabet Soup. Now she is the curator of Alphabet Soup's blog. In her spare time she writes children's fiction and poetry, runs writing workshops with small groups of children, and tends a tiny kitchen garden. Her house has more books than bookshelves …

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