The Lighthouse Family Series by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Preston McDaniels, 57pp RL 1.5
The Lighthouse Family series of books was among the first that I reviewed when I started my blog in August of 2008. As much as I loved the books, I reviewed them a bit reluctantly because they weren't all in paperback at the time and it seemed as though they might go out of print, even though Cynthia Rylant (Henry and Mudge, Mr Putter and Tabby, Missing May)is the winner of multiple Newbery and Caldecott awards and honors. However, I was THRILLED to see a copy of The Eagle show up on my cart of books to be shelved the other day and, after a quick check to make sure the series is still all in print and in paperback, I decided to re-post the review.
Cynthia Rylant's experience and skill show in her series The Lighthouse Family Series. Despite being only 57 pages, a good number of which have illustrations, often full page, Rylant creates a detailed world, rich with images and vocabulary that is also gentle and slow paced. While these books all have exciting events in them, the suspense level is low and the quiet care and concern that the parental figures in the story provide is cozy and complete. Preston McDaniels' warm, cloud-like illustrations enrich the writing wonderfully. The Lighthouse Family series and the Catwings Quartet by Ursula le Guin make up two of the most imaginative, well written, beautifully illustrated sets of books written at this reading level (which is high first grade) that I have encountered.
The Lighthouse Family is made up of Pandora, the lighthouse cat, Seabold, a sheep dog who washed ashore, and three orphaned mice children named Whistler, Lila and Baby Tiny and each book centers around a different creature that the family interacts with. These names may be difficult for some readers, as will some of the vocabulary (biscuit, tentacle, practicing, assumed) but it is writing like this that can stretch a reader's ability and imagination. And the writing is beautiful. At the start of the book The Octopus, the family is out in the garden where Whistler is making a bean trellis in the shape of a cat, which "delights Pandora." Baby Tiny is finally big enough to play in the garden, however, worried that a strong gust of wind might blow him away, Seabold ties him to the clothesline. Lila is making beetle houses out of piles of rocks and Pandora gathers herbs, walking through her garden with "an apron of mint."
These books are a delight to read out loud and, with their gentle themes, make for perfect bedtime stories. Despite the reading level I gave the books, I think The Lighthouse Family series might be a struggle for a child who is not reading at a solid second grade reading level. And, I would hate to think of a young reader missing out on the beauty of the language and plot in these books while struggling with the vocabulary. I hope you will seek out these books to read to your children or for them to read on their own.