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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lighthouse Christmas, written by Toni Buzzeo and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Dial, Penguin. 2011. $19.50 ages 5 and up

"Her heart thudded. She'd never lit the wick herself. Too soon after he'd left, a blast of wind blew out the light. Her hands shook. A gust blew out her match. Once. Twice. A third time she lit the match and held it to the wick."

I love to read Christmas tales about families and the situations they face when celebrating together. So, I was interested to see a story about a family living in a lighthouse and based on the Flying Santa Service which continues to serve in many areas of the United States today. I had never heard of it, while I have certainly wondered at those who can, and do, live in such isolation. Being city-raised, I cannot imagine the every-day solitude, while I sometimes long for it.

As children everywhere, Frances and Peter are full of joy over the coming of Christmas. Since their mother's death, the family has taken up residence at the Ledge Light, an isolated but very necessary lighthouse. There is little left in their cupboards as stormy weather has kept the supply boat away, and Frances worries that Christmas will be very different for them this cookies, or singing and with a wonder about Santa knowing where they are.

When Papa offers them a chance to go to the mainland to be with family, they are pleased and decide they will go. Then, when a storm blows up and Papa must rescue a drowning man from an overturned boat, Frances tends the light for the first time. What might have happened had she not been could her father be in two places at one time? It helps her make a decision that changes all of their plans. Their Christmas this year may not be the one they were hoping for; but, with a little ingenuity and some help from a very special service, it surely can be memorable.

Nancy Carpenter's illustrations make the setting come alive for readers, and also help us see what life was like for lighthouse keepers in an earlier time. The colors are richly hued, the details nostalgic and the characters created with warmth and tenderness for their sadness and their isolation. If you like stories about family, heartfelt sacrifice and making the best of what you have, you are sure to find this tale fulfilling and it may become a Christmas tradition at your house.

Tony Buzzeo has written two stories about lighthouses. Of this one she says:

"This second historical lighthouse book is about the Flying Santa Service, which carried Christmas gifts to isolated lighthouse families along the coast of New England for many years. The story gave me the chance to continue to explore the history of lighthouse living (this time in the 1920’s) and also the spirit of service and giving that imbued those hardy souls who lived on small islands surrounded by sea."

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