Review of Kate's Light: Kate Walker at Robbins Reef Lighthouse

Kate’s Light: Kate Walker at Robbins Reef Lighthouse
by Elizabeth Spires; illus. by Emily Arnold McCully
Primary, Intermediate    Ferguson/Holiday    40 pp.    g
1/21    978-0-8234-4348-2    $18.99

This thorough and visually evocative picture-book biography tells the story of Kate Walker (1848–1931), who became one of the first women to serve as an offshore lighthouse keeper. An archival Currier & Ives map of New York Harbor on the endpapers sets the historical scene in the late nineteenth century, when Kate emigrates from Germany. A widow with a small child, she begins work as a cook at Fort Hancock, where she meets and marries John Walker and, after his appointment as lighthouse keeper, settles with him on Robbins Reef. The octagonal iron structure stood on a granite foundation surrounded by water; Spires describes the lighthouse as looking, from far off, like a “tiny candle on a birthday cake.” When John dies, Kate remains; four years later she becomes the permanent keeper. Giving equal measure to her devotion to John’s last words (“Mind the light, Kate”); her isolation; and her bravery (she rescued fifty people during her near thirty-year career), Spires shows Walker as a quiet heroine meeting challenges calmly and efficiently. McCully’s hallmark watercolors support this focus, whether depicting the cramped conditions on Robbins Reef, the pattern of life at the lighthouse, Kate braving dangerous weather, and two spectacular seascapes. Appended with an author’s note, documentation, and a bibliography.

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Betty Carter
Betty Carter, an independent consultant, is professor emerita of children’s and young adult literature at Texas Woman’s University.

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