Caldecott Medal 2019

Caldecott Medal 2019

 
Blackall, Sophie. Hello Lighthouse. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 
 
The Caldecott Medal was the second of what now constitute many annual book awards presented by The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), the youth division of the American Library Association (ALA). Frederic G. Melcher proposed to the ALA in 1937 that a new and second award to join the Newbery Medal Honor be established to honor the illustrator of the most distinguished picture book in the United States also published in the preceding year. The Randolph Caldecott Medal was named after the nineteenth-century British illustrator considered to be the originator of picture books for children. The very first Caldecott Medal was awarded in 1938 to Dorothy P. Lathrop for her illustrations that accompanied Helen Dean Fish’s book, Animals of the Bible (Lippincott, 1937).
 
 
“Lighthouses are not just stone, brick, metal, and glass. There’s a human story at every lighthouse; that’s the story I want to tell.”
Elinor DeWire
 
Lighthouses along the coasts of the North Atlantic, especially from New York to Newfoundland, are portrayed in this luminous and highly informative picture book. They serve as steadfast sentinels that from dusk to dawn send out the life-saving message, “Hello, Hello, Hello” to ships at sea that may be in peril in all kinds of weather. The spare and often poetic text features a single lighthouse poised upon the very highest rocky point of a tiny island far from the coastline at a time in history when individual lighthouse keepers courageously kept these life-saving beacons aglow. Hello Lighthouse begins when a new keeper arrives by tender to take command of his post as the lighthouse keeper. He is busy every day polishing the lens, refilling the oil, trimming the wick, and winding the clock that keeps the lighthouse beacon in continual motion. He keeps the lighthouse logbook and writes daily letters that he mails in bottles cast adrift on the ocean currents. He fishes for cod from a lighthouse window. 
 
Ships from the mainland known as tenders periodically bring necessary supplies for the upkeep of the lighthouse and the needs of the keeper. Eventually, one such boat brings the wife of the keeper and after a time their first child is born in the magical lighthouse. Ultimately, technology changes the functioning of the lighthouse. The coast guard arrives with a brand-new light and the machine to operate it. There is no longer a need for the lighthouse keeper. The tender escorts the young family away. Good-bye! Good-bye! Good-bye!
 
The Chinese ink and watercolor illustrations attractively capture in simple yet exquisite images the myriad activities both within the lighthouse and in the sea that surrounds it through day and night. Icebergs float south and whales journey north. Sunsets shimmer on placid waters just as dark storms are fierce and deadly. On one dreadful night, the lighthouse keeper saves three seamen whose boat has crashed on killer rocks. 
 
The book design is highly original. The tall, rectangular shape of the book itself suggests the shape of lighthouses. Several double-page spreads position the lighthouse in the same position but with the surrounding images reflecting the varying changes of the mighty sea from calm and sunny days to massive and dangerous tempests in the perilous dark of night. The first of these spreads is a cutaway illustration of the circular interior of the lighthouse with its single round rooms on each of the six floors and its spiraling staircase that leads to the very top of the structure. Building upon this fact of lighthouse architecture, Blackall uses a circle motif throughout that includes interior cameos of unique lighthouse objects and eventual family life within the round lighthouse and outward to the ever-changing ocean waves and currents that surround it.
 
As with many exceptional picture books that have won the Caldecott Medal, the author-illustrator provides two pages of factual information about her extensive research including visits to lighthouses from New York to Newfoundland. She notes the importance of keeping the lantern room windows spotlessly clean and free of ice in the winter months, a life-threatening job for the lighthouse keeper. Such men and women have other duties such as keeping meticulous logs and keeping the interior spotlessly clean. It is noteworthy that Blackall records that many lighthouse keepers were women. 
 
Blackall now joins the company of such highly honored illustrators as Robert McCloskey, Marcia Brown, Chris Van Allsburg, and David Wiesner in having won multiple Caldecott Medals. Hello Lighthouse is the second of her book illustrations in the past four years to receive acknowledgement for being the most distinguished picture book of the year. Blackall won her first Caldecott Medal in 2016 for the illustrations she created for Lindsay Mattick’s book Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear (Little, Brown and Company, 2015). She imagines a time during World War I when a Canadian veterinarian, Harry Colebourn, pays $20 for a tiny bear cub at a rail depot as he travels across that nation’s vast plains by train and onward to England by ship. Ultimately, the bear cub finds a home in a London zoo where he meets and befriends a young boy named Christopher Robin Milne whose childhood adventures with Winnie-the-Pooh are imagined by the boy’s father, author Alan Alexander (A. A.) Milne.  
 
Activities for Teachers and Homeschoolers
 
Perhaps the closest structures and the work of their inhabitants in the American and Canadian West that parallel coastal lighthouses are the fire towers and smoke watchers who also live in solitary confines far distant from populated towns and cities. Encourage students to model a picture book about these edifices and the labors of their inhabitants. Students who live in locations beyond the United States and Canada may choose yet another life-saving edifice with which they are familiar as the subject of their creative writings and artwork. Hello Lighthouse in both its text and afterword mention the vital importance of the daily logs kept by lighthouse guardians. One cameo illustration portrays the lighthouse keeper writing in his log, yet the contents of such a log are not revealed. Ask readers to write a log entry following the night the lighthouse keeper heroically saves the lives of three men whose boat crashes on perilous rocks and tosses them adrift during a fierce ocean storm. 
 
Additional Awards and Honors 2019
 
The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), the youth division of the ALA, has added a multitude of additional awards since the creation of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals. Up to as many as five additional Honor Books may be acknowledged under the banner of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals. The ALSC annually bestows many awards and honors in addition to the Newbery and Caldecott Medals and Honors. The Coretta Scott King Book Awards celebrate African-American authors and illustrators of outstanding books that reflect the African-American experience. Pura Belpre Medals recognize excellence by Latino and Latina writers and illustrators. The Robert F. Sibert Awards annually honor the most distinguished informational books for children. The Schneider Family Book Awards are bestowed for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience. The Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal and Honors are awarded for the most outstanding books for beginning readers. The Michael Printz Award prizes literature written for young adults. The Stonewall Book Award recognizes exceptional merit in books relating to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender experience. 
 
Descriptions and lists of winners in all these award-winning books may be easily found with Internet searches conducted by parents, students, and educators. The wealth of outstanding books for gifted, talented, and creative students is exceptionally rich. Almost one hundred books have won the Newbery Medal. That vast library of outstanding books from just one categorical award represents an unparalleled canon of distinguished literature to enhance the education of exceptional students.