Miss Colfax's Light

In 1861, at the age of 37, Harriet Colfax took on the job of lighthouse keeper for the Michigan City lighthouse off Lake Michigan. It was a bold and determined endeavor, especially since there were very few female lighthouse keepers in the country at that time. For 43 years, until the age of 80, Harriet kept her light burning, through storms, harsh winters, and changes in technology. This true story focuses on Harriet's commitment and determination to fulfilling her charge and living life on her own terms. Excerpts from her actual log are included.

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Interest Level Grade 1 - Grade 4
Reading Level Grade 2
Dewey 386/.8550977291
Lexile AD760L
ATOS Reading Level 4.3
Guided Reading Level P
Language English
Publisher Sleeping Bear Press
Available Formats Hardcover (9781585369553), PDF (9781634707930), Hosted ebook (9781634708050)
Copyright 2016
Number of Pages 32
Dimensions 11 x 9
Graphics Full-color illustrations
  • ILA 2017 Children's and Young Adults' Book Award - Primary Nonfiction, Winner
  • 2017 Storytelling World Award - Honor Stories for Pre-Adolescent Listeners Category, 2017

School Library Journal - Miss Colfax's Light

K-Gr 3—From 1861 to 1904, Miss Harriet Colfax tended the oil lamps and beacons of the Michigan City Lighthouse while living in the keeper’s house on the Lake Michigan shore with her friend and companion, Ann Hartwell. Harriet’s story begins in pictures, with a verso spread showing her traveling by boat to the lighthouse with all her possessions. Ewen’s illustrations, which appear to be watercolors with fine-lined detail, add excitement to this story, helping readers imagine the subject’s difficult life. The artist varies their size and shape, using vignettes to show the tedium of daily chores and, at one point, using a dramatic cutaway of the keeper’s house to emphasize the challenge of the twice-nightly climb to the light. There are striking storms and angry waves. Bissonette dramatizes Harriet’s story with events the keeper had noted in her journal and with reiterations of her determination (“I can do this.”). Quotes from the journal are set off in parchment-colored boxes, but the back matter (a short author’s note and glossary) does not include sources. VERDICT Though not as dramatic as Marissa Moss’s The Bravest Woman in America, about Ida Lewis, this is an appealing profile of a remarkable woman and a nice reminder that the Great Lakes have dangerous coasts as well.

Author: Aimee Bissonette

Author Aimée Bissonette was born in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, the sixth of seven children. Aimée earned her Bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University and her Law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School. She has worked as an occupational therapist, teacher, lawyer, and small business owner. She is the author of Miss Colfax’s Light. Learn more at her website: aimeebissonette.com. In addition to her books for children, Aimée has published a book for K-12 teachers and administrators on the legal issues associated with technology in the schools. She lives with her husband, family, and dogs in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Illustrator: Eileen Ryan Ewen

Illustrator Eileen Ryan Ewen was born into a family of artists who fostered her love of story- telling through pictures. She earned a BFA in Painting from Miami University (Ohio) and an MFA in Creative writing from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She is also the illustrator of Miss Colfax’s Light (SBP, releasing March 2016). She lives in St. Louis with her family.

Narrator: Tamara Ryan

  • Beginning of text
  • Author's Note
  • Glossary
Author/Illustrator biography
Glossary of key words
Full-color illustrations