A Newbery that I liked. Yay!
Although Ronnie’s Aunt Martha was a lighthouse keeper for fourteen years, Ronnie has never spent the night in a lighthouse. But now, he’s going to spend a whole fortnight in a lighthouse. Here’s how it works.
The lighthouse keeper, Mr. Flagg wants to take a quick vacation just before Christmas, but he can’t just abandon the light at Tern Rock – if there’s a storm, the light could save someone’s life. Somebody has to take care of it, and who better than Aunt Martha? And since Ronnie now lives with his Aunt, he gets to take the trip with her.
He’s very excited, but also a little worried. You see, he’s to be a part of the Christmas performance at school (he gets to sing carols!) and he wants to be sure that he’ll get back to the mainland in time for the event. Mr. Flagg said he’ll be back by the fifteenth of December, but accidents do happen…
As the fifteenth draws nearer, Ronnie begins to get nervous. Will Mr. Flagg come back in time? Will Ronnie get to attend the Christmas party?
It is unclear why Ronnie lives with Aunt Martha – his parents are never mentioned, so we don’t know if they’re dead, divorced, or pirates. But Ronnie’s relationship with Aunt Martha is very healthy and sweet. They really enjoy their first two weeks on the island as they nose around the lighthouse and take care of it together. Then the disappointment comes.
Mr. Flagg does not keep his promise to come on the fifteenth, and Ronnie is crushed with disappointment. He responds by storming about the injustice of Mr. Flagg’s not keeping his word and is inclined thenceforth to take a sullen view on life. He is deeply hurt by the injustice of the whole affair. Aunt Martha wisely lets him stew for a day, giving him time to come to a reasonable view, but when he does not, she addresses his behavior. She tells him that it is wrong for him to be angry at Mr. Flagg and that he should not be so selfish. She encourages him to think reasonably about his disappointment and tells him that he should be more concerned over the promises that he has made and broken than about Mr. Flagg’s. It takes a little while, but Ronnie eventually comes around and the story ends with happiness and resolution.
When Ronnie asks Aunt Martha if a broken promise isn’t the wickedest thing, she replies that she thinks that cruelty is the worst sin. I don’t think that I agree with either of them (although I believe that both cruelty and forsworn oaths are evil), but I did agree with what Aunt Martha told Ronnie a few sentences later.
“A man who breaks a promise has a weak place in his net.” [pg. 35]
When Ronnie complains about cleaning up the lighthouse for Christmas, Aunt Martha chides him.
“Ronnie,” Mrs. Morse said gently, “for hundreds and hundreds of years men have believed that on Christmas Eve the Christ Child goes visiting. He goes into all kinds of homes. None is too poor, too distant. That’s why we make our houses as lovely as we can. We must be ready.” [pg. 37]
Later, she tells Ronnie that “Christmas is something in your heart. It’s a feeling that doesn’t go with anger and hatred.” [pg. 47]
The book closes with forgiveness on Ronnie’s part, and the last paragraph of the story said,
“If, that Christmas Eve, over dark water, a small dark lad in eastern dress, with sandaled feet happened to follow a flashing light to a distant lighthouse, He would find all in readiness within.” [pg. 62]
While the idea of Christ physically visiting people on Christmas Eve is over-drawn and not founded in Scripture, it does raise interesting questions for young minds to ponder – if Christ did come, would he be pleased with how I keep my room? Would my heart be hardened from different events in the day, or would it be full of humility and kindness? Etc., etc.
‘Holy mackerel’ and ‘gee’ are each used once.
Conclusion. A solid, worthwhile story for young readers.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret