Caroline Arnold is the author of two new children’s books, Keeper of the Light and Planting a Garden in Room 6. She has written 170 other books for kids, is a former instructor in the UCLA Writer’s Program, and lives in Los Angeles, California.
Q: What inspired you to focus on lighthouse keeper Juliet Fish Nichols in your new picture book Keeper of the Light?
A: I first learned about Juliet Fish Nichols on a visit to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay and heard how, on a very foggy day and night in the summer of 1906, she rang the giant fog bell by hand for 20 hours straight when the automatic bell machine failed.
I wanted to learn more about this intrepid woman and what it was like to be a lighthouse keeper–alone, as a woman, isolated at the bottom of a cliff--responsible for keeping shipping lanes safe, day after day, night after night.
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book calls it “A fascinating introduction to a once-celebrated, now lesser-known light keeper.” How well known was Nichols in her lifetime, and what do you see as her legacy today?
A: Juliet’s remarkable dedication to duty shows how ordinary people doing their job faithfully day after day can have an impact on history, especially when faced with extraordinary circumstances.
While newspapers at the time lauded Juliet’s actions in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and noted Juliet’s connection with her mother, Emily Fish, keeper at the Point Pinos, California, lighthouse (they were an unusual mother/daughter lightkeeper duo), Juliet was largely forgotten after her retirement in 1914. My book is the first to tell her story as a children’s book.
Q: What do you think Rachell Sumpter's illustrations add to the book?
A: Rachell Sumpter’s beautiful atmospheric watercolor paintings evoke the landscape of Angel Island--its plants and animals, the lighthouse at the bottom of the cliff, the fog and sun–day and night, summer, fall, winter, spring.
I love the way the art depicts the human scale of Juliet and her lighthouse against the larger landscape and the elements.
Q: You also have another new picture book out, Planting a Garden in Room 6, part of a series. How did you get the idea for this book, and what do you hope kids take away from it?
A: Planting a Garden in Room 6: From Seeds to Salad follows a class of kindergarten children growing vegetables in a school garden as they learn firsthand about the growth cycle. This is my third book with kindergarten teacher Mrs. Best, who I met when I did an author visit at her school.
After spending time in her classroom watching the children hatch chicks and raise butterflies for the first two books in the series, planting a garden seemed like the obvious next project. As the last line in the story says, “Nothing tastes better than vegetables fresh from the garden. Especially when you have grown them yourself.”
Q: What are you working on now?
A: For another picture book biography, I am researching the life of Lizzie Kander, editor of the best-selling Settlement Cook Book (first edition 1902), which grew out of her work at a community center in Milwaukee called The Settlement. I learned to cook using my mother’s copy of the book--the 25th edition!
I am also working on a memoir focusing on my childhood years growing up at a settlement house in Minneapolis.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Children’s picture books are necessarily short and it’s impossible to include all the fascinating material I discover in my research. Both of my new books have back matter, giving a larger context to the story.
In my long career in children’s book publishing, I have worn numerous hats, including that of a photographer and illustrator. The Room 6 books are illustrated with my own photographs. You can find out more about these and my other 170 books for children at my website www.carolinearnold.com.
Thank you so much, Deborah, for the opportunity to share my newest books!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb