Welcome to our Captain Scupper’s Kids Book Club. Over the next several weeks, we will be recommending some of our favorite Great Lakes children’s books. Each of these books highlights different and important parts of the Great Lakes experience.
MISS COLFAX’S LIGHT
by Aimee Bissonette, illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen
Suggested Interest Level: Ages 6-9
Suggested Reading Level: Grade 2
In 1861, when she was 37-years-old, Harriet Colfax became the keeper of the Michigan City Lighthouse. She was one of the longest serving female lighthouse keepers on the Great Lakes and held the position for 43 years, retiring when she was 80. Lighthouse keeping was incredibly difficult, but vitally important to the safety of sailors.
Lighthouse keepers were expected to keep logbooks to document their activities, the weather and other events. Author Aimee Bissonette uses these primary sources to tell the story of Harriet Colfax in her own words and highlight her unwavering spirit in the face of an incredibly grueling job. Illustrator Eileen Ryan Ewen creatively depicts the difficult work of lighthouse keeping in the 19th-century.
FREE RESOURCE: In 2018, author Aimee Bissonette gave a lecture at the National Museum of the Great Lakes. She talked about researching primary sources to write children’s books. You can see the full lecture provided by WGTE’s KnowledgeStream here.
BUY THE BOOK: Purchase your own copy of the book at our online store here and proceeds go to support the National Museum of the Great Lakes.
Author Aimee Bissonette uses Harriet Colfax’s logbooks to tell her story. This is called primary source research and it is what historians do to reconstruct history. Lighthouse keepers used logbooks to keep track of daily events, weather, supplies and other details.
For example, on August 28, 1871 Harriet Colfax wrote:
Thunderstorms toward morning. Cool day with occasional showers. Heavy fog about midnight — shutting out the Beacon St. entirely from the Main light. Went down to investigate & found the lamp burning all right. 3 arrivals.
On October 13, 1872 she wrote:
Gale perfectly fearful by nightfall. Waves dashed over the top of the beacon. Reached the beacon at imminent risk tonight as the waves ran over the elevated walk. Watched both lights with closest attention all night.
These logbooks give an insight into the daily life and struggles of lighthouse keeping on the Great Lakes.
Spend a week keeping a daily log of your activities and other daily events. What information do you think is important to include? At the end of the week read your entry from the first day. Did the log help you remember that day?