Miss Colfax’s Light by Aimée Bissonette.
Read this aloud to your students and they will be struck by the strength of an unsung hero. A recipient of the ILA Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Award for Nonfiction, this compelling narrative tells the story of Harriet Colfax who was the lighthouse keeper for the Michigan City Lighthouse for forty-three years beginning in 1861. The work was back breaking and intense, but Harriet persevered until she retired at the age of 80. The author uses a repetitive phrase stated by Colfax, “I can do this” to reveal how determined this woman was even when the city asked her to also tend to a beacon light located at the end of a catwalk which reached 1500 feet out into Lake Michigan.
Suggestions for an Interactive Read Aloud in Grades 2-4:
- Before reading aloud the book, take a few minutes to build background knowledge. You might do one or more of the following:
- Locate Michigan City, Indiana and Lake Michigan on a map
- Identify the years 1861 and 1904 on a timeline so children can think about how long ago this story took place
- Look at images located on the Internet of lighthouses from this period. Several similar images come up when you search “lighthouses Michigan City Indiana.” Many of these images include a “catwalk” which is described in the book.
- Add to the discussion by sharing an image of the lighthouse in a storm and ask, “What would it be like to walk on a catwalk out to this lighthouse during a storm?” (You can locate images by searching “lighthouse Michigan City Indiana storm” on the Internet).
- Discuss the definition and purpose of a lighthouse. A kid-friendly definition might be: a tower or building with a very bright light to help ships avoid dangerous areas.
- Read aloud the book a first time, mostly without stopping so students can enjoy the book and begin to get the gist.
- As part of a second read aloud, ask the students to turn and talk with a partner or in small groups at particular points. Examples of stopping points and prompts for discussion include:
|Page||Questions for Small-Group Discussions|
|“Night after night, Harriet climbed…”||What does the author describe on this page? Why do you think the author told us that Harriet said, “I can do this”?|
|“Over the years, Harriet’s lighthouse duties grew…”||If we look closely at the illustrations on these two pages, what do we learn about Harriet and her job?|
|“All that night Harriet paced the lighthouse floors…”||What do you think the author means when she writes, “Harriet would not let them down?”|
- Engage the students in writing in response to a part of the book that reveals how Harriet persevered. A student-friendly definition for “to do continue doing something even if it’s hard.”
- Ask small groups to write and perform a short script for one scene in the book or to imagine a scene that is not in the book but is based on what they learned from the book.
- Provide an opportunity for more advanced readers to compare the information on Colfax at http://www.oldlighthousemuseum.org/colfax_hartwell.html with the book.
- Leave the book on display in your classroom library for students to read again on their own.
Congrats to the new author Aimée Bissonette. Looking forward to her next book!