Caldecott Winner Sophie Blackall Visits Shore

Caldecott Medal-winning author and illustrator Sophie Blackall visited Shore on October 10. An Australian artist and illustrator of children’s books based in Brooklyn, New York, Blackall won the 2016 Caldecott Medal for Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear and the 2019 Medal for Hello Lighthouse. She has illustrated more than 30 books for children, including the Ivy and Bean series.

During her time at Shore, Blackall spoke to students in the Trustey Family Theatre about her childhood in Australia, her career as an author and illustrator, her travels around the world, and the creation of the award-wining Hello Lighthouse. “I love writing, drawing, traveling, and spending time with kids—and luckily I get to do all of these in my job, which is pretty amazing.”

She told Kindergarteners through sixth graders that as a child, she loved to spend time in a tree reading books, and that being up tree was “a little like living in a lighthouse.” As she grew older, her love of books, stories, and illustrations continued to grow, until she was inspired one day by a picture of a lighthouse she found at a flea market. “For the very first time I found myself thinking about what it would be like to live in a lighthouse. I’d always thought about lighthouses as something that you saw in the distance, but I started to think about what life must be like climbing up and down those spiral stairs, and having to bring everything with you that you need to survive,” she said. She visited numerous lighthouses while researching Hello Lighthouse, and stayed in one for several days on Quirpon Island on the northern tip of Newfoundland, where she wrote the first draft of the book. “I decided when I was staying there that I wanted to show my lighthouse in all kinds of weather, from stormy to crystal-clear calm. But through it all, I wanted the lighthouse to remain the same, constant. And in the book, you’ll see that the lighthouse is always on the same spot on the page as everything around it changes and life goes on inside.”

Between projects, Blackall travels with the organizations Save the Children and UNICEF to countries such as Bhutan and Rwanda, where she works with local authors and illustrators to bring books to rural classrooms. She told Shore students about the village schools she has visited, where children crowd together on benches in classrooms which often lack electricity, running water, and books. “For some of these children,” Blackall said, “the books we bring into their classroom may be the first ones they’ve ever seen.”

Students had numerous questions for Blackall about her work. Asked how long it took to create Hello Lighthouse, she surprised the audience by revealing that the book went through 14 drafts over the course of three years. Students were also interested in learning about her latest work-in-progress, If You Come to Earth, about a boy who writes a letter explaining our world to alien visitors. “It’s about everything from Earth’s place in the solar system to the kinds of foods we eat, the kinds of clothes we wear, the different types of animals on our planet, and where we live and how we get from one place to another,” she said. Because the book is not yet complete, Blackall enlisted the help of Shore students to sketch one of the alien visitors who might read the boy’s letter. An interactive drawing session capped off this very memorable author visit.