For the first Picture Book pick of the new year, I've chosen an old favorite of mine. I used to live right up the hill from this lighthouse, and in the winter, if the trees were blowing just the right way, I could catch a glimpse of it under the George Washington Bridge from my balcony. I used to love to stroll down the path to hang out by the water and think about how this week's book helped save it and make it, along with the Alice statue in Central Park and Eloise's Plaza, one of the great Children's Book landmarks of New York City. Enjoy.
The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge
by Hildegarde H. Swift and Lynd Ward
(Harcourt 2002 first published 1942)
'Once upon a time a little lighthouse was built on a sharp point of the shore by the Hudson River.
It was round and fat and red.
It was fat and red and jolly.
And it was VERY, VERY PROUD.'
This is the story of the last remaining lighthouse on Manhattan Island in New York City, a place once home to many such lighthouses. In the classic picture book tradition, this functional object is imbued with the friendly qualities equal to its usefulness. The reader cheers for the heroic lighthouse and fears for it when the men come to build the Great Gray Bridge right over it's head. Just when it seems the lighthouse will become obsolete, it once again saves the day.
The language is fun and the illustrations are quite brilliant. There's a William Blake quality to the lighting that is quite striking. Our friend the lighthouse beams on the page.
This is not only a delightful story, but it's also a very important book that illustrates the power of children's books. After it's publication, so many children wrote letters wanting to save the little red lighthouse, that eventually it was spared. Now, once a year, the city holds a Little Red Lighthouse Day where it's open to the public and to this day, children still flock to it. To the authors and the children who were moved by this book, we all owe our gratitude.