by Brian Floca
Ages 3 to 7
A Richard Jackson Book | Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Simon & Schuster Children's Books
• A Robert F. Sibert Honor Book
• Booklist’s “Top of the List” Youth Picture Book for 2007
• Winner of the 2007 Cybil Award for Best Nonfiction Picture Book
• An American Library Association Notable Children’s Book
• A New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing Selection
• A Banks Street Best Books of the Year selection
• A Junior Library Guild Premier Selection
• A 2009-2010 Buckaroo Award Nominee (WY)
Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review):
Floca creates both suspense and poetry in this tribute to the anchored lightships that once warned ships away from hazards on the North American coast. Beginning with, “Here is a ship that holds her place,” he introduces viewers to a crew of nine, plus a cat, then shows that crew performing routine tasks both topside and down below as they wait, but for what? When the weather worsens, that question is answered; on come the bright lamp and the deafening foghorn: “Then other ships sail safely,/because the lightship marks the way/through fog and night,/past rocks and shoals,/past reefs and wrecks,/past danger.” Using the Ambrose, a New York museum ship, as his model, the author presents an array of cutaways, views from above, glimpses of the engine room, john and kitchen, as well as showing the steadfast vessel floating on glassy seas and tossed by waves. Together, the pictures and the brief, measured text lend these utilitarian, no-longer-active vessels a heroic aspect that will resonate with all young fans of ships and the sea.
Booklist (Starred Review):
Lightships—floating lighthouses—were retired in 1983, but they live on in Floca’s handsome picture book, which uses simple words and repeated phrases to emphasize the vessels’ purpose and uniqueness as well as their day-to-day operation. “Here is a ship that holds her place,” begins the text, which takes children on a sensory tour of the Ambrose, complete with the slapping of the waves on the hull, the rocking motion of the ship, the smell of the sea and of fuel, and—in one climactic blast that sends the ship’s cat leaping straight up into the air—the sounding of the foghorn. Meanwhile, the ink-and-watercolor illustrations offer close-ups of the crew at work as well as wide, double-page scenes of passing ships (including the SS Ardizzone). Varied in composition and perspective, the art shows the little ship inside and out, in summer and winter, in calm and stormy weather. Some pictures include elements of humor, while other scenes are notable for their quiet beauty. Floca explains in an informative note that before it was possible to build platforms in deep water, lightships served as floating lighthouses, using powerful lights and blaring foghorns to signal other ships. From the endpapers, showing a cutaway view of the ship, to the final phrase, “the lightship holds her place,” this handsome book respects both its subject and its audience. — Carolyn Phelan.
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review):
With straightforward, compelling prose and crisply detailed narrative ink drawings, Floca (The Racecar Alphabet) creates an engrossing portrayal of a now-vanished nautical practice (according to a closing author's note). "Here is a ship that holds her place," he begins, with a phrase that becomes the basis of an improvised refrain (e.g., "The lightship holds her one sure spot"). Thus he introduces the fictional lightship Ambrose and her nine-man crew. Floca follows the men and their marmalade cat mascot during the mundane tasks and sometimes-dramatic occurrences of daily life (a too-close-for-comfort encounter with a big tanker elicits a salty "#@*%&!" from the crew). In the final pages, a fog rolls in (as the cat creeps across the deck, for Carl Sandburg's fans), allowing the Ambrose to show off her raison d'être. She flashes her beacon and sounds her horn (with a mighty "beeooh," at which the feline visibly shakes) to "mark the way" for other ships "past rocks and shoals,/ past reefs and wrecks,/ past danger." Youngsters who are mesmerized by "how things work" books will want to add this one to their shelves, but even landlubbers may well embrace this tribute to steadfast duty on the high seas.
School Library Journal (Starred Review):
Lightships were anchored where lighthouses could not be built. They protected our ocean harbors as well as points along the Great Lakes. The last one was decommissioned in 1983, so this fascinating picture book is a piece of nautical history. Floca’s watercolor drawings depict daily life aboard one of these vessels, cooking, sleeping, working, all the while rolling with the rhythm of the waves. There were many hazards involved. Big ships came too close, anchors lost their mooring, and weather caused many problems. But when the fog rolled in, the lightship sprang into action. Lights flashed and horns sounded, allowing ship traffic to make it “through fog and night, past rocks and shoals, past reefs and wrecks, past danger.” The drawings are very detailed. Some pages are collages of small scenes. Many are full spreads. The sailors’ facial expressions are amusing to watch, and the resident cat appears on almost every page. The front and back endpapers show a cutaway view of one of the vessels. This fascinating, little-known slice of history should prove interesting to every child who loves big boats. — Ieva Bates.
The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (Starred Review):
What could possibly be the raison d'être of a ship that puts out to sea and then, well, stays put (“She holds to one sure spot as other ships sail by. She waits”)? As Floca guides his audience on a tour of the Ambrose, viewers begin to understand just what she’s waiting for—the need to warn passing vessels that danger is imminent. Most of her time is spent in patience, keeping the engines and crew in working order, keeping the anchor in position, and dodging (with the occasional salvo of salty verbiage: “#@*%&!”) the huge cargo ships that barrel down upon her closer than they should. But “when the fog comes creeping in, the crew knows what to do. They sound their horn so loud the whole ship SHAKES” (“BEEOOH,” says the sound bubble for the horn in huge letters) so the other ships at sea will navigate past underwater perils and safely into port. While the prose unreels in graceful simplicity, line-and-watercolor paintings capture the inner working of the Ambrose and the changeable environment in which she stands guard. Even the endpapers are worth close inspection, featuring a labeled cutaway view of the Ambrose, from the deck hoist fore to the gin rummy game aft. Listeners are bound to be so caught up in the immediacy of the present-tense narration that Floca’s revelation in a concluding note may come as a bit of a disappointment—the last lightship station was closed down in 1983. Still, there’s always room in the picture-book collection for books about heroes past or present, and these guys will stand up (okay, float) with the best of them. — EB
The Horn Book:
Unlike many ships, which set sail and go interesting places, the job a lightship is to hold its place at sea. When other ships might try to avoid bad weather, it’s the job of a lightship to stay put and “sound their horn so loud the whole ship SHAKES.” Without running aground on the shoals of too much or too little information, Floca skillfully details the crew, equipment, and routine for all aboard. He’s especially good at working in extra information through pictures with a minimum of words—a dinghy approaches, with a speech balloon saying “Mail’s here!” (Speech balloons also catch the authentic flavor of seaboard dialogue, as when a larger ship comes too close and a sailor on the lightship shakes his fist and lets fly with “#@*%&!”) The watercolor-and-ink illustrations gracefully depict the beauty of the ocean on both calm and turbulent days as well as the massive vessels the lightship protects, all seen from many perspectives. Endpapers include a cross-section diagram labeling everything from the gin rummy game taking place in the stern to the anchor at the bow, and an author’s note at the end explains (in letters too tiny for most child readers) that the last U.S. lightship was retired in 1983, making the present tense of the main text a decidedly odd choice. — Susan Dove Lempke.
This is a truly beautiful picture book about a subject most young readers may never have encountered. Author-illustrator Floca, in brisk but poetic words and stunning watercolors that are both witty and informative, tells the story of the red-hulled Ambrose Light. Young adventurers are sure to be drawn into the life of the crew and its cat, as the ship weathers fog, storms, and close encounters with other vessels, while all the time she "holds her one sure spot." From the shining lights high on the masts to the domain of the engineer deep in the hull, Floca's research lets readers explore the equipment of a lightship and the perils of the sea; his fluent writing brings alive a sense of the crew and their devotion to their ship, often with delightful touches of humor. Though each picture deserves attention, especially striking are the ones of the scarlet hull in a snowstorm (through portholes, cat and cook are seen snug below) and of the huge black shape of the S.S. Ardizzone (a tribute to the English illustrator) looming over the Ambrose as a crewman shouts, "#@*%&!" from beneath and a sailor on the giant ship answers sheepishly, "Sorry!" The introductory flap proclaims, "They are the crew (and cat) / that work to make the ocean safe, / that hold their place, / so other ships can sail. / Come aboard!" For young sailors (and adults) who want to know more, Floca's cutaway view and "Author's Note" will prove fascinating, too.
Library Media Connection:
"Floca continues his tradition of writing and illustrating books about interesting subjects. In this book he tells the story of The Ambrose, a lightship, now a part of the New York Seaport Museum. In areas of the United States where lighthouses could not be built to warn ships of danger, lightships were used. From a cutaway view of the lightship to explanations of the various crewmembers the reader gets a clear understanding of the importance of lightships in American history. Smaller illustrations are placed several to a page, some tilted to give the feel of the boat rocking. Floca cleverly alludes to Carl Sandburg's poem "Fog" in an illustration showing a ship cat padding through the fog accompanying the text. You don't have to live on the Great Lakes or along the coast to appreciate this book.” — Nelda Brangwin.
Lightship? The best non-fiction books make us become fascinated with what we never knew existed. Not in U.S. waters since 1983, lightships were designed to act as lighthouses where lighthouses could not be built, long before the days of offshore towers and automated beacons. They moored near deadly obstacles. The tone of this book is merrily accumulative, as we see each part of the ship cared for and watch it function in fair and foul weather. Especially visually strong conveying how widely, with what hilarious angles, the footing departs from the level. — Mary Harris Russell.
The New York Times Book Review:
Until they were retired in the 1980s, lightships were like floating lighthouses, warning oncoming boats of reefs and other dangers. In this fascinating account, not lacking a touch of humor — we see the crew swearing “#@*%&!” as a cruise ship comes too close — the boat stays at anchor in “one sure spot,” an image of quiet steadfastness. Floca’s meticulous drawings are based on Light Vessel 87, now docked at the South Street Seaport Museum in Manhattan. — Julie Just.