Discover the best lighthouses in children’s literature
Published on: 30 June 2019 Author: Lucy Strange
Author Lucy Strange indulges our love of the mysterious lighthouse with her round-up of the best ones in kid's books, from old-fashioned adventure yarns to tales of mermaids and pirates.
I have always loved lighthouses. I don’t know if it’s the quirky, architectural novelty of them, the romantic, windswept locations or the thrill of the spiral staircase that goes up, up, up into the sky, but they hold a very special place in my imaginative world.
My new children’s novel, Our Castle by the Sea, is set in a lighthouse on the chalky cliffs of Kent. Twelve-year-old Petra’s world has always been one of storms, secret passages and stories about sea monsters, but when the Second World War begins and Petra’s neighbours start to turn upon her and her German mother, the clifftops that she has known all her life suddenly become a terrifying battleground.
Why the lighthouse is fiction's perfect setting
Lighthouses have featured in our best-loved stories for centuries – at the heart of heroic tales and nautical legends. They are perfect settings for ghost stories or supernatural thrillers due to their wild and isolated locations. In fact, Pet’s nightmare of the Wyrm in Our Castle by the Sea is partly inspired by the 1977 Doctor Who series Horror of Fang Rock, which features a similarly horrifying creature crawling its way out of the sea and slithering up the lighthouse steps!
If, like me, you love a lighthouse setting, you’ll love Emma Carroll’s brilliant 2017 novel Letters from the Lighthouse – a moving and intriguing Second World War tale featuring brave young heroine Olive Bradshaw and her little brother Cliff. When they are evacuated from London to a lighthouse on the coast of Devon, Olive begins to unravel a strange and dangerous mystery.
Enid Blyton’s tales still captivate many young readers today, and I know I’m not alone in looking back fondly on these good old-fashioned adventurous romps (with lashings of ham salad and ginger beer). Five go to Demon’s Rocks features an eccentric lad called Tinker, an abandoned lighthouse, some smugglers, a secret passage and a monkey called Mischief! What more could you possibly want?
The second in Abi Elphinstone’s fabulous Dreamsnatcher series, The Shadow Keeper finds Moll hiding out in a cave by the sea, on her quest for the second amulet. This is a gripping adventure, full of danger, dark magic and mythical beings, but so beautifully written the rugged, stormy coast feels completely real and you can almost taste the salt-spray in the cold, night air.
A lighthouse and coastal cave provide an equally atmospheric setting in Tim Bowler’s powerful psychological thriller, Storm Catchers. Suitable for more mature middle-grade or YA readers, the story features the kidnapping of the protagonist’s sister, and a web of devastating family secrets that he must untangle on his mission to rescue her. Young readers who enjoy fiction at its nail-biting, cliff-hanging best will not be disappointed.
Meanwhile, Lampie and the Children of the Sea; translated by Laura Watkinson and published by Pushkin Press, this English translation of Annet Shaap's prize-winning debut begins with a lighthouse and its 61steps. When the lamp goes out and a ship is wrecked, Lampie's adventure of pirates, monsters and mermaids begins. A haunting fairy tale of a book.
Lighthouses for younger readers
Smaller bookworms will love The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda and David Armitage, with the ingenious basket-and-pulley delivery system – and hordes of greedy seagulls!
Another favourite from my own childhood – partly responsible for my lighthouse obsession – is Miss Priscilla’s Secret by Jennifer Zabel and Christopher Masters. The eponymous Miss Priscilla is a prim and proper school teacher – with luxurious silk petticoats and a rather surprising alter-ego . . . Little Timothy follows her into the cellars of the school house one night to discover the secret passage to Lucas Longshanks’ lighthouse and an exciting smuggling plot!
As a youngster, I also loved Disney’s Pete’s Dragon, in which the lighthouse is a place of happiness and safety for young Pete. The Little Golden Book version of the story is a nostalgic treat for mums and dads, and a colourful “brazzle dazzle” tale for tots too.
Perfect for those just starting to read, Heidi and Daniel Howarth’s The Littlest Lighthouse Keeper is a lovely, uplifting story about a mouse called Henry who has to be very brave when he is left to look after the lighthouse all by himself. Aimed at the same age range, but with a very different approach, Hello Lighthouse by Caldecot-winning artist Sophie Blackall was published in 2018. This beautiful hardback book is disarmingly simple in content, and so lovingly and poetically illustrated that children and adults alike will fall in love with lighthouses.
And lastly, Gracie The Lighthouse Cat by Ruth Brown is a beautifully illustrated book that tells the true story of Grace Darling’s heroic deeds through a parallel tale about the courageous lighthouse cat. The artwork is breath-taking, conjuring the sheer force and scale of a storm at sea. The lighthouse, of course, is at the centre of the story, and – as is the case in many of these wonderful books – it is a beacon of hope and safety: a light for us to row towards when the world is at its most turbulent and treacherous.
Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House). Follow Lucy Strange on twitter @theLucyStrange. Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com.