Wednesday, March 14

Lightship

by Brian Floca
Antheneum 2007

Proof that you not only learn something new everyday, but that you can learn it from picture books. Actually, you can probably learn more from picture books than other books, but it's too soon for a digression.

A lightship, I now know, was a floating beacon placed where lighthouses were needed but could not be built for various reasons. Anchored to and named after specific nautical formations -- reefs, shoals, any other shipping hazards like sunken ships -- these boats contained a minimal crew who monitored and maintained the lights, radios and foghorns aboard.

Very simply what Floca does is show us the bits and pieces that made up the routines of a crew aboard a lightship. While there is no story there is still a sense of being taken along for a tour with everything from the mundane oiling of the engine to the near-misses with larger ships in the fog. Humorous touches -- the cat that shouldn't be there, the cook reading a scrod cookbook -- keep things light without detracting. With nary a line of dialog he creates a crew of characters whose voices and mannerisms can nonetheless be imagined. No need to include dialog when it's already in your head to begin with.

For the readers who enjoy the details the endpapers feature a cutaway view of the lightship while spreads within the book are carefully taken from sketches made from a decommissioned ship. The fine print at the end of the book (to be digested by adults and shared with younger readers) the history of lightships is explained, including the fact that the last US lightship, the Ambrose on which the book is based, was retired in 1983. Modern technology has made the lightship obsolete, adding a strange sense of nostalgia for something I never realized was there to begin with.

A pleasantly odd experience. Strangely compelling.
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