Inspired by real life lighthouse heroines Grace Darling and Ida Lewis, Featherlight combines family, myth and courage in a tender story of hope.
‘I am the lighthouse keeper’s daughter,
And I keep the lighthouse by the water.
Keep the oil lamps bright,
Through the stormy hours of the night.’Peter Bunzl
Deryn is the daughter of the lighthouse keeper on Featherstone Island. He keeps the lantern lit to ensure that those who pass in ships and small boats are protected from the dangerous rocky coastline. One night an emergency means that Deryn’s father must take her mother to the mainland leaving Deryn alone with the responsibility of keeping watch over the lighthouse in their absence. When the lamp runs out of oil during a violent storm Deryn must find a way of warning a small fishing boat that they are in great danger. She receives help in guiding them from a most unusual and unexpected source.
The lines quoted above form the beginning of a poem written by Peter Bunzl that can be found at the end of Deryn’s story and I think they beautifully capture the feel of the book. As I read I was transported in time and place to a setting that has a magical quality. This is partly due, I think, to the sense of isolation that is conveyed so well. Deryn is left completely alone for a couple of days until her Grandmother comes to help and her solitary experience would, I think, be both surprising and impressive to today’s readers. Deryn is capable and sensible showing a courage that is admirable but she also displays an awareness of her own fears and worries making her a character that children will readily identify with and understand.
The merging of the traditional story of The Firebird with Deryn’s adventure is cleverly done and the writing in both its use of vocabulary and imagery and its themes does have the feel of a fairy tale in some ways. There is a balance between action and thoughtful description which together with the short chapters ensures that this story can be enjoyed by readers who may not yet have developed reading stamina. The charming black and white illustrations by Anneli Bray throughout the book depicting a young Deryn add to the perception of her as vulnerable yet brave.
This first book for Barrington Stoke by Peter Bunzl is gentle blend of myth and history, courage and family love centred around a child and a bird with an unbreakable bond.
Peter Bunzl had included at the end of the story the poem already mentioned, historical notes about Grace Darling, Ida Lewis and lighthouses all of which would encourage children to find out more about these two young women and the history of lighthouses in this country. The book could also link to other stories too, most obviously The Firebird and the music associated with it by Stravinsky. Although marketed as a story for children aged 8+ I think it could be read aloud to slightly younger also.
As with all books by Barrington Stoke Featherlight is produced in a design ensuring that it is accessible to dyslexic readers yet would also offer a short and satisfying read for more confident children. Featherlight is published on 1st April and I should like to thank Kirstin Lamb and the publishers for providing my review copy.
If you are interested in finding out more about Grace Darling you may enjoy this BBC Teach video in which you can listen to the story of her life, and describes the night she and her father rowed out in their tiny boat to save nine sailors. Teachers may find this Grace Darling: Topic pack created by the RNLI useful.