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The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge: Restored Edition Paperback – April 1, 2003
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"There is just enough humanizing in the pictures . . . to maintain the human spirit of the story and lead to its message: 'Each to his own place, little brother.'"--New York Herald Tribune
About the Author
LYND WARD (1905-1985) illustrated more than two hundred books for children and adults throughout his prolific career. Winner of the Caldecott Medal for his watercolors in The Biggest Bear, Mr. Ward was also famous for his wood engravings, which are featured in museum collections throughout the United States and abroad.
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The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge is one of those classics that rings with everlasting truths. Furthermore, it's about two landmarks on the Hudson River that are still there, and which anyone can see merely by Googling the George Washington Bridge or the Little Red Lighthouse (a.k.a Jeffrey's Hook Lighthouse), which still stands proudly at its feet, thanks to preservationists who acted to save it specifically because of their love for this book.
The lighthouse takes pride in its job, warning ships to stay away from the rocks at night, especially in fog or storms. A huge bridge goes up right next to it, and high above, hundreds of feet in the air, a beacon is installed atop it. The lighthouse feels that its light is no longer needed, and begins feeling depressed and isolated, but when a dense fog comes and the man fails to come and fire up its light, the lighthouse learns that the ships of the river are in great peril. The great bridge calls down to it and asks it to turn on its light, and explains that the bridge's beacon is for the ships of the air, not those on the water. The man arrives, at last, and the lighthouse proudly gets back to work.
Hildegarde H. Swift was an excellent storyteller, and Lynd Ward made very compelling pictures with lots of broad, powerful strokes, hallmarks of the Art Deco era. The book was published in 1942, and while I own an original edition of it, I bought this edition because of the "facsimile" artwork inside. That is an interesting story in itself: Mr. Ward drew his sketches of the bridge and lighthouse from the Manhattan shore while they were under military guard after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. His wife served as the lookout while he sketched furiously, for anyone caught making pictures and diagrams of key bridges could be arrested under suspicion of being a collaborator. He made watercolors from the sketches, and then made 3-color artwork from the watercolors. The original edition, of course, uses the 3-color artwork. But this facsimile edition, published in 2002, uses the actual original watercolor illustrations, which have a great deal more sparkle. Either way, it's a great children's book and one of the all-time classics. Certainly one of MY favorites!
The book also has a special connection with my family, for my grandparents' best friends were the famous pilot Wiley Post and his wife Mae, and the beacon atop the Great Gray Bridge (George Washington Bridge) was commemorated in Post's name to honor him. My grandmother (who, at this writing, is 102 and still very active) attended the dedication ceremony with Mae Post in the 1930s.
I remember as a child feeling powerfully for the lighthouse and the ships that wrecked when its light failed. I remember sharing its fears of being no longer needed, of being all alone, and of being unable to speak: "The little red lighthouse could neither speak nor shine." That still puts a lump in my throat to this day when I read it to children. I also remember very much how I identified with the Little Red Lighthouse's pride in its work when it was able to resume. There is a line that I think is important for children:
"Though it knows now that it is little, it is still VERY, VERY PROUD."
What a great message for tiny, new people who cannot imagine that this massive, fast-moving world could possibly need them.
This beautifully-written story has even more of an impact on me now. Being a lighthouse lover, and in spite of being a children's book, I really teared up - again - during the reread. The reprint has been vastly updated, and reading just how and when the artist sketched the tiny, red light, simply adds to the story, as it came about shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. After both 9/11 and the Pearl harbor tragedy, all military structures were off-limits. In 1942 - this innocuous light was part of the US Army Corps of Engineers. No one was permitted to go near it. Lynd Ward, aware that photos were forbidden, found a myriad of different ways to sketch it for the cherished picture book he illustrated and Hildegard H Swift, penned.. A road trip is in order to visit this building, now on the National Register of Historic Places
I would recommend this book as a great story t read to little ones or for them to read themselves. And it isn't bad for an older person to read it and learn its lesson.