The Lighthouse Mermaid
ABOUT THE BOOK
The Lighthouse Mermaid
by Kathleen Karr
Illustrated by Karen Lee Schmidt
Kate lives with her family in a lighthouse on an isolated island off the coast of Maine in the 1870's. She spends her days dreaming about and drawing mermaids until her father decides she must learn how to be a lighthose keeper. His lessons are just in time. When the family's food runs low, Kate's father leaves the island in the dead of winter to try and row his dory to the mainland for supplies. Kate's mother is busy having a baby, so Kate must take over the keeper's job. Can she make the fog bells run? Can she save the castaways from a storm¾tossed ship? Can Kate keep the light?
3rd Grade Reading Level 3.1-3.5; Ages 8-9.
Paperback: 0-7868-1232-X; Library edition: 0-7868-2297-2.
SOME HISTORICAL NOTES
The U.S. Lighthouse Service
The first permanent lighthouse in this country was built in Boston Harbor in 1716. A lighthouse tower still stands on the same spot. One of the first laws passed by the Congress of the United States in 1789 was for the establishment of what became the United States Lighthouse Service. Over the next two centuries lighthouses of every size and shape were built around our country. Today the U.S. Coast Guard cares for the lighthouses that are still in operation.
Different Kinds of Lighthouses
- Conical: In the early days, most lighthouses were built of stone or wood and were rounded towers. A few octagonal towers were also built. Sometimes these towers sat on only a few rocks surrounded by the sea. Keepers would live in tiny rooms within the tower itself. If there was more room, a keeper's house would be built immediately next to the tower.
- Screwpile: This design was borrowed from England. It included legs with huge screws at each end that were twisted into the bottom. Eight of these legs, plus cross braces formed the skeleton foundation. Car-penters built a house on top of this, with a lantern and lens poking from the roof. Screwpile lights sat right in the middle of the water. They averaged 46 feet above sea level and looked like giant crabs! Most of these were built in the Chesapeake Bay.
Women (and Girls) Keep the Light
During the nineteenth century, hundreds of American women kept the lamps burning in lighthouses. Their tasks included lighting lamps in the tower at dusk, replenishing the fuel at midnight, and polishing the lamps each morning to keep them bright. Here are stories about a few of them:
- Hannah Thomas was the first woman known to keep a lighthouse in America. She lived with her husband on a spit of land protecting Plymouth harbor in Massachusetts. Their lighthouse was built in 1768 and the Massachusetts Bay Colony paid John Thomas a rent of five shillings for his land, as well as two hundred pounds a year to act as keeper. When John Thomas joined a Massachusetts regiment to fight the British in 1776, Hannah remained in charge of the light during the long years of the Revolutionary War.
- In 1830 Rebecca Flaherty took over her husband John's duties as keeper of the Sand Key Light in the Florida Keys. During a hurricane in 1846, Rebecca and her five children drowned when they took refuge in their lighthouse tower and it was swept away.
- Kate Moore was just twelve years old when she began to assist her father in trimming the wicks for the Black Rock Light on Long Island Sound. When her father's health failed a few years later, she took over the job. She did her fa-ther's work for 54 years but was only made the official keeper when she was 76 years old! In her own words:
"On calm nights I slept at home, dressed in a suit of boy's clothes, my lighted lantern hanging at my headboard and my face turned so that I could see shining on the wall the light for the tower and know if anything had happened. Our house was forty rods from the lighthouse, and to reach it I had to walk across two planks under which on stormy nights were four feet of water. And it was not too easy to stay on those slippery, wet boards with the wind whirl-ing and spray blinding me during storms."
Do you live anywhere near a lighthouse? If so, try to organize a class trip to inspect it. Most surviving lighthouses are operated by historical associations and are open to classes for guided tours.
You don't live near a lighthouse? Organize a Social Studies/Science-Math/Art unit on the subject.
- Social Studies: Study the busy nineteenth-century coastal shipping and fishing industries. Talk about the lifestyles of these men of the sea. Discuss how lighthouses were critical to their safety as day and night navigational aides, and as beacons warning of danger during storms.
- Science-Math: Discuss light and the optics of a Fresnel lens. How did it work? How did its many polished lenses magnify the light of only a single lamp burning whale oil? Light towers were especially important to mariners sailing along an unfamiliar coast for the first time. During the night they became navigational points, but during the day they were also used as "daymarks." Because of this, each tower along a specific coast was painted with distinctive patterns and colors. The height of a tower was also important. It was built for the arc of the earth its light must travel and overcome. Talk about horizons and "arcs of the earth." Discuss why a harbor light need only be a short tower to cast its light the six or seven miles a ship captain might need to make port. On the other hand, the low coastal lands of the southern United States required that a lighthouse be tall--normally over 160 feet--to guide coastal traffic many more miles out at sea. Most West coast lights could be shorter, because they were built on cliffs 200 feet or more overlooking the sea. Create a theoretical lighthouse and its environment. Estimate how tall the tower must be, and how far its light will shine.
- Art: Have your students design and build different styles of lighthouses. Put flashlights inside and give each tower a different flashing light pattern, the same way that real lighthouse strung along a coast used different patterns so mariners could distinguish their location at night. (Kate's lighthouse used a pattern of three seconds of light followed by three seconds of dark. Then it repeated itself.)
Clifford, Mary Louise and Clifford, J. Candace. Women Who Kept the Light. Cypress Communica-tions, Williamsburg, Virginia. 1993. Holland, F. Ross, Jr. Great American Lighthouses. Preservation Press, Washington. 1989.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kathleen Karr was raised on a chicken farm in South Jersey, not too far from the ocean. On Sunday afternoons her family would go on excursions to stroll the boardwalk in Atlantic City (before the casinos existed) or drive up the coast to see Barnegat Light. She's been in love with lighthouses ever since, and has hauled her own family up and down the many steps of nearly every lighthouse on the east coast, the west coast, and along the Great Lakes.
ANOTHER HYPERION CHAPTER BOOK BY KATHLEEN KARR
Spy in the Sky
Ten-year-old orphan Ridley Jones befriends the aeronaut Thaddeus Lowe when his balloon falls out of the sky, right into Ridley's South Carolina town. The Civil War has just begun, and Ridley saves the northerner Lowe from the musket shots of his suspicious neighbors. Rewarded by a job as the balloon-ist's assistant, Ridley and Lowe head back North to convince President Abra-ham Lincoln to form the Union Army's Balloon Corps. Based on true histori-cal incidents, Spy in the Sky is an exciting and adventurous introduction to Civil War history.
3rd Grade Reading Level 3.1-3.5; Ages 8-9.
Paperback: 0-7868-1165-X; Library edition: 0-7868-2239-2.
HOW TO ORDER
Paperback editions: $3.95. Trade hardcover editions: $14.49. Hyperion and Disney Chapters are available in bookstores and through your favorite wholesalers. Order directly by calling 1-800-759-0190.
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