Author: Elvira Woodruff
Publisher: Scholastic (April 2008)
Hardcover, 240 pages, $16.99
Left in the care of his aunt while his father is at sea, 11-year-old Digory Beale is plagued by nightmares of his father dying in a terrible storm. Digory has always been afraid of the sea, preferring to draw when other boys were competing for sailing jobs. When word comes that his father’s ship has gone down, it seems that his worst fear has been realized. Digory must set out for Plymouth to learn his father’s fate. His aunt tells him not to return unless he finds his father alive. With eleven children of her own, she can’t afford another mouth to feed. Digory and his 9-year-old brother Cubby (who decides to follow Digory rather than stay with their aunt) face a difficult journey with little food, no money, and dwindling hope that their father is still alive.
In Plymouth, Digory and Cubby receive the crushing news that there were no survivors from their father’s ship. With their hopes of reuniting with their father dashed, the boys are alone and scared. Just when they think things can’t get any worse, Digory and Cubby are framed for stealing. A man named Henry Winstanley intercedes on their behalf and this chance meeting will drastically alter Digory’s life.
Henry Winstanley takes the boys to be servants at his home in Essex, but Winstanley’s home is no ordinary country estate. An engineer with a fondness for gadgets, Winstanley has filled his home with many whimsical inventions including a “Flying Chair” (an early version of the roller coaster), a mechanical dragon, and fountains that shoot colored water into the air. When Winstanley discovers Digory’s artistic talent, he offers him an apprenticeship. Digory thrives under the engineer’s tutelage.
When Winstanley receives news that the Eddystone Lighthouse, a beacon that he designed, is in need of repair after severe storms, he and Digory rush to Plymouth. Digory will finally have to face his fear of the sea in order to assist his beloved mentor.
While Digory and Cubby are fictional characters, Henry Winstanley was real. In 1698, he took on what many thought was an impossible task: construction of a lighthouse off the treacherous Eddystone reef near Plymouth, England. The Eddystone Lighthouse sustained severe damage during its first year of operation and was rebuilt with a modified design. For five years not a single ship was lost to the reef. In 1703, the lighthouse was destroyed during the Great Storm, the worst weather disaster in Britain’s history. Henry Winstanley and five others were killed when the lighthouse succumbed to the sea. The Eddystone Lighthouse was later rebuilt, and thanks to Winstanley’s vision, thousands of lives have been saved.
Elvira Woodruff has written an exciting and well-researched tale of courage and friendship. The book includes a glossary, a map of England in 1700 highlighting the key locations in the story as well as an extensive author’s note about the life and accomplishments of Henry Winstanley. Highly recommended.
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