Stephen Hart, The Lighthouse at Pelican Rock (Eagle Books 2018)
Published by Eagle Books, an imprint of tiny, Armidale -based Christmas Press, this is Stephen Hart’s debut novel for young readers. May he live long and give us many more.
It’s a time-slip adventure novel. Twelve-year-old Megan is recuperating from serious illness, and is sent to stay with her Aunt Rachel in Pelican Rock, not far from Eden on the south coast of New South Wales. While she’s there, a strangely aggressive pelican visits her in the night and somehow transports her back to a time when Pelican Rock’s ruined lighthouse was in one piece and functioning. In a number of what we at first think may be just dreams, she becomes friendly with the ancient lighthouse keeper.
If you’ve read a lot of children’s adventure books, you know that the first thing to do is get rid of the parents, and that’s how it is here, but it turns out that although Megan’s parents are still in Sydney, hundreds of miles away, they are very much on her mind: Aunt Rachel’s interest in her, and obvious caring for her, make her realise that she has come to expect to be treated as uninteresting and unimportant compared to her younger brother, Alex. At Pelican Rock she begins to recover her health and fitness, and also her sense of herself as deserving to be loved and cherished. The trips back in time are at first just icing on the cake.
I enjoyed this book a lot, not just for the well-paced, less than predictable story. One thing I especially like is the way it speaks to the young reader’s curiosity – and the old reader’s for that matter. Aunt Rachel tells Megan why the nosy little Jack Tussell terrier is called Cyrano, the lighthouse keeper explains interesting bits of how lighthouses work, the doctor and the vet both make sure Megan understands what they are doing. And Megan’s understanding of relationships between adults deepens and grows: with her we gradually come to understand that Aunt Rachel and Rhys Evans, whom Megan meets on the train, have been in love and still have feelings for each other (as the Americans would say); she grasps from the beginning that cranky old Aunt Rachel is critical of her parents and over the course of the book’s action comes to see this is as a very good thing; she takes careful note of the way the doctor and the vet relate to children differently from anything she has previously experienced.
The illustrations by Kathy Creamer are perfect for the story.
So if you’re looking for a book for someone on the cusp of teenagehood, or if like me you enjoy an occasional children’s book for your own pleasure, here’s one I recommend.