Kate’s Light: Kate Walker at Robbins Reef Lighthouse by Elizabeth Spires, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully


   Kate’s Light: Kate Walker at Robbins Reef Lighthouse by Elizabeth Spires, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House, 9780823443482, 2021

Format: Hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Genre:  Biographical picture book

What did you like about the book? Kate Kaird was a widow who sailed to America from Germany in 1882 at the age of 34 with her young son Jacob, hoping for a better life. She became acquainted with John Walker, the keeper of the Sandy Hook, New Jersey Lighthouse. He taught her English, and they fell in love and were married. Soon, John accepted a new position as keeper of the Robbins Reef offshore lighthouse in New York Bay near Manhatten and Staten Island. Kate and John arrived with her young son, and at first, the lighthouse seemed isolated and cold. Kate worked hard to ensure that the house felt like home. Jacob stayed with a family onshore during the week so that he could easily attend school, and he lived at the lighthouse weekends and summers. Kate applied to become John’s assistant, and she was granted the job! She worked hard by John’s side. They had a daughter Mae who arrived just as the Statue of Liberty opened. After many happy years, John fell ill with pneumonia and they raised the flag upside down as a distress signal to get medical treatment for John. As he was rowed to the hospital, Kate remained to care for the lighthouse and their daughter. Sadly, John did not survive. Kate worried about her family’s future. The Lighthouse Board asked her to leave the post, however, they eventually agreed that she could stay until a man was found to replace her. Ultimately she was hired as the permanent keeper, a job in which she remained with her grown son Jacob serving as her assistant. At the age of 71, Kate retired, having saved over fifty people’s lives. The end pages provide photographs of Kate and provide additional details of her extraordinary life. The watercolor, pen, and ink illustrations by Caldecott Medalist McCully are delightful accompaniments to an interesting life story. The endpapers also present beautifully rendered watercolors of the historical Port of New York.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No, this is a wonderful immigration story that also presents a strong woman who defied the odds in a male-dominated field.

To whom would you recommend this book?  This text is perfect for a biography unit, women’s history, immigration, or history of navigation and waterways. There’s so much rich history here and it also provides a springboard for further research.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? JUV B WALKER

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? YES!!

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Linda Broderick, Lincoln Street Elementary School, Northboro, MA

Date of review: 4/21/2021

This entry was posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, *Starred Review, Biography, Elizabeth Spires, Emily Arnold McCully, History, Immigration, Lighthouses and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.