As I was driving to the bookstore to select books to review for this column, I heard this quote from an Emily Dickinson poem (written on the back of a recipe for coconut cake): “The Things that never can come back, are several —/Childhood — some forms of hope — the Dead —/Though joys — like men — may sometimes make a journey —/And still abide —”
Best to savor each moment of the childhoods around us. One way to do that is by sharing books (and maybe coconut cake). Here are four great new books to share.
Sophie Blackhall, who was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 2016 for her illustrations for “Finding Winnie” (written by Lindsay Mattick; Little Brown, 2015. $18) has illustrated and written “Hello Lighthouse” (Little Brown, 2018; $18.99). There is so much to love about this book. First, the story begins with the first end paper. We see a photo of a seafaring man and a woman in a bride’s dress, a pen and a letter that begins, “Alice, my love.” We also see a needlework piece that is a portion of a whale’s tale. Turn a page and the words begin: “On the highest rock of a tiny island/at the edge of the world stands a lighthouse. / It is built to last forever. /Sending its light out to sea, /guiding the ships on their way. / From dusk to dawn, the lighthouse beams. /Hello! / … Hello! ... Hello!/Hello, Lighthouse!” The lighthouse is a character in the story from the very beginning. Its light says “hello” and we say “hello” back to it.
But it is also the setting. The setting for the story of the lighthouse keeper. We read of his activities from polishing the lens and refilling the oil of the lamp, to painting the lighthouse rooms, to threading his needle. And he writes: “Every few days he writes her a letter/ and throws it into the waves.” Soon the supply boat (the tender) brings her, along with the oil and flour, pork and beans. There is drama in the lighthouse lives — a sea rescue of three sailors, an illness, even a birth. Eventually the lighthouse is mechanized, and the three residents move to land. On the last spread we see the finished needlework on the wall.
This book is a paean to an old way of life, tending lighthouses. But the care and affection we see in the lighthouse family is no different from what we strive for with our own families every day.
Care and affection can cross species and that is just what happens in “Rescue and Jessica,” written by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes (illustrated by Scott Magoon; Candlewick, 2018; $16.99). Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downs were injured in the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Jessica “eventually became a double amputee” and a black lab rescue dog, named “Rescue” joined her soon after. She and her husband, Patrick, also an amputee as a result of the bombing, have written this story to share their experience with this wonderful dog. The Jessica in the story is a girl, not a woman, but the training of the dog and the help the dog provides are based in fact. “‘You rescued me, Rescue,’ said Jessica. But the truth was, they had rescued each other.” They have done us all a favor by telling their story.
“Libba,” written by Laura Viers (illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh; Chronicle Books, 2018; $17.99) details the life of self-taught guitarist and songwriter Elizabeth Cotten. “Libba Cotten heard music everywhere. She heard it in the river when she brought in water for her mother. She heard it in the ax when she chopped wood for kindling. She heard it in the freight trains moving down the tracks near her home.” She so loves music that she learns to play her brother’s guitar upside down and backward because she is left-handed. Viers says, “it was kind of like brushing your teeth with your foot. Or tying a shoe with one hand.” She wrote the song “Freight Train” before she was 13.
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Then came the years when she did not play guitar. She worked and raised her children. She was working in a department store and returned a lost child to her mother, who happened to be composer Ruth Crawford Seeger. She became housekeeper for the Seegers and moved in with them. “As Libba worked, she LISTENED.” And one night she picked up the guitar. “’DANG!’ cried the kids. /‘SHE CAN PLAY’ cried the bluesmen.’” With help from the Seegers Libba played all over the United States and in Europe. Resources at the back of the book include internet addresses where readers can watch and listen to Elizabeth Cotten.
The joys and memories of these books will journey with us — the lighthouse keeper’s affection, the dog’s devotion, the musician’s passion — will enhance our own journeys.
l Jacqueline Briggs Martin writes books for children. Her most recent books are “Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Re-Mix” (winner of the ALA’s Sibert Honor for non-fiction) and “Creekfinding” (winner of the Green Earth Book Award for Picture Books).