The positive reviews keep coming in for Lift Your Light a Little Higher. Here is a lengthy excerpt from reviewer Rita Lorraine’s assessment of Heather Henson and Bryan Collier’s picture book:
In the quiet darkness, a slave leads a group of “customers” through an amazing cave, and when they write their names on the walls by the light of his lantern, he teaches himself to read.
This is the story line in author Heather Henson’s quiet new picture book, Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop, Slave Explorer. In the book, Stephen is purchased as a young boy and ordered by his owner to “”learn the ways of the cave well enough to lead paying folks around in the deep.” Stephen does just that. And he also does other amazing things: For example, he is “the first to lay eyes upon those eyeless fish” and “those craw dads white as bone,” both found only in the underground rivers of Mammoth Cave. He is also the “first to cross what even learned men have deemed un-crossable” (The “Bottomless Pit”). Yes, Stephen is a discoverer…though like most slaves, he doesn’t go down in history that way.
In Ms. Henson’s Author’s Note, she admits to knowing very little about Stephen Bishop’s life, yet she still manages to breathe beauty and nobility into Stephen’s personality. Her simple, straightforward prose loans a soft-spoken flavor to Stephen’s words, and a courage and resolve to his deeds.
Through Ms. Henson’s prose, readers understand that, slave though he was, Stephen attained a type of freedom in those caves. Readers will share his pride in the fact that he alone held his lantern high and led adventurers through the damp, dangerous, and patchy darkness–and then back again to safety.
Artist Bryan Collier delivers with poignant illustrations of sad, soulful eyes and quiet strength; of courage in the shady depths of the Mammoth Cave. In fact, it is easy to see that Mr. Collier somehow tapped into Stephen Bishop’s quiet courage and resolve and brought it to the canvas. Thanks for these lovely illustrations, Mr. Collier!
From the September, 2016 issue of School Library Journal, a terrific review of Lift Your Light a Little Higher that describes the book as “a germane and trenchant story. Written in the first person, with Bishop leading readers through a tour, the book packs intricate meaning into each line.”
See the entire review below:
Lift Your Light a Little Higher was the subject, along with Jonah Winters’ My Name Is James Madison Hemings, of an in-depth Booklist essay on “Two new books about men who lived under slavery [that] bring up interesting questions about the elasticity of biography, the discernment capabilities of younger audiences, and the lines between history and historical fiction.”
The author, Ilene Cooper, describes Lift Your Light thusly:
Heather Henson’s Lift Your Light a Little Higher … takes readers inside Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, where Stephen Bishop, also known as Guide, leads tourists through the twists and turns of the underground wonder. In a come-close first-person narrative, Bishop, a slave, describes how he came to spend his life underground, so attuned to his surroundings that he discovered a previously unknown species of eyeless crawdads. Bishop learned to write by watching folks scrawl their names on the walls, and his own name can still be seen there. Poetic and evocative, the story chronicles what it was like for Bishop to cup a deerskin moccasin in his palm or to feel pride in being Guide, “a man able to walk before other men, not behind.”
Using watercolor and collage, primarily in dark greens and browns, artist Bryan Collier provides bold, striking art on oversize pages. Children will feel the intensity of both the natural world and a man who understands his corner of it.
Cooper’s article raises interesting questions about fictionalization of historical subjects and how we can explain children that the lines between fiction and nonfiction are not always as clear as they think. It can (and should) be read in full at the Booklist Reader website.
Come join Heather this Saturday, 24th, 11:00 am, at Ky Soaps and Such in Stanford, KY. Kids and adults welcome! Reading, book signing, cookies, locally made products such as Plainview Farm all natural goat’s milk soaps and lotions! Visit Kentucky Soaps and Such for more info.
Sharing this press release from the Kentucky Humanities Council!
Contact: Brooke Raby, Project Manager, email@example.com
Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-Explorer chosen to represent Kentucky at National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (August 16, 2016) – Kentucky native and award-winning children’s author Heather Henson’s forthcoming book, Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-Explorer, has been chosen to represent Kentucky in the Pavilion of the States at the 16th Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington, D.C in September.
The National Book Festival is scheduled for Saturday, September 24 and is sponsored by the Library of Congress, Center for the Book. The Festival includes a Pavilion of the States, at which every state highlights a children’s or young adult book that was written by an author from that state, or is about a subject relevant to the state, or in Kentucky’s case, both. For more information about the National Book Festival and the Pavilion of the States, please visit www.loc.gov/bookfest.
Lift Your Light a Little Higher (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2016) tells the story of Stephen Bishop, the mid-19th century slave who explored and gave tours through Mammoth Cave. The book is illustrated by Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Award-winner Bryan Collier.
A native of Danville, Heather Henson is the Managing Director of the Pioneer Playhouse, established in 1950 by her father, the late Col. Eben C. Henson. She is the Christopher Award-winning author of several children’s books, including That Book Woman, about the Pack Horse Librarians of Eastern Kentucky; Angel Coming, about the Frontier Nursing Service; and Dream of Night, a middle-grades novel. She holds a BA in Creative Writing and Film Studies from The New School University in New York City, and an MA in Creative Writing and Literature from City College/City University of New York. For many years, she was an Editor of books for young readers at HarperCollins Publishers in New York. For more information on Heather Henson, please visit www.heatherhensonbooks.com.
Henson will also be at the 35th Annual Kentucky Book Fair on November 5th at the Frankfort Convention Center.
The Kentucky Humanities Council is a non-profit Kentucky corporation affiliated with the National Endowment for the Humanities. For information about the council’s programs and services, visit www.kyhumanities.org. ###
Frank X Walker is the current Kentucky Poet Laureate. He also happens to be a Danville native and a DHS grad (just like yours truly.) So some literary types in Danville have organized the first ever literary fest in Frank’s honor. Be sure to come to Danville and check it out. Here’s the schedule:
The Frank X Walker Literary Festival
Thursday, September 18, 2014
“Turn Me Loose…. The Unghosting of Medgar Evers” Convocation
Newlin Hall/Norton Center/7:30 p.m.
Featuring Frank X Walker
Friday, September 19, 2014
- Frank X Walker … School Presentations
- Authors in our Schools (Danville/Boyle)
Writing Workshops/Oral Readings/Student Presentations
- Boyle County Public Library: Heather Henson/Marie Bradby: Reading & Talk 1:00-3:00 p.m.
Picturing Words Smithsonian Exhibit 9:00-5:30 p.m.
- Frank X Walker Community Reception Danville High School 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Danville High School
10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
- Oral Presentations by Frank X Walker and Authors
- Community Readings
- Book Fair 10:00 – 4:00 p.m.
- Frank X Walker “State Historical Marker” Project
- Concessions : Dunn’s BBQ
Boyle County Public Library
- Family Day of Literacy/ Readings/ Workshops 10:30-12:00 p.m.
- Picturing Words Smithsonian Exhibit 9:00-5:00 p.m.
Frank X Walker Rick Lee
Minnie Adkins Maurice Manning
Amy Barkman Marcia Mount Shoop
Wendell Berry David Nahm
Marie Bradby Ricardo Nazario-Colon’
Devine Carama Guerney Norman
Hasan Davis Mike Norris
Mitchell Douglas Yolantha Pace
Carolyn DuPont Katheryn Ragle
Ruth Ann Fogle Octavia Sexton
Thomas Freese C.A. Shelley
Hazel “Sybil” Hall Judy Sizemore
Louis Hatchett Penny Smith
Heather Henson Patsi Trollinger
Shayla Lawson Crystal Wilkinson
I’ll be in beautiful downtown Stanford, Kentucky on Saturday, April 12, 2014 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. along with other Kentucky writers. Please join me! I’ll be reading my books to kids at 11:00 a.m. Here’s more info about the event!
It’s become a ritual to sign an “L” for the last night of the entire Playhouse season. Here I am in front of an audience of 500 (!!), introducing the final show, thanking our regular patrons, bidding adieu until next year….
Pioneer Playhouse was started by my dad in 1950, and my family has continued to run it since then. Hard to believe we’re 64 years old…. and still going, still talking about the future…future plays, future actors, future programs.
We do 5 plays a summer. One every two weeks. Plus a 3 day comedy show to end out the season. It’s a grueling schedule. Rehearsing one play during the day while performing another at night. Tearing down one set within a 36 hour period and putting up a completely new one.
About 15,000 people come through our doors over the summer. Many have been coming for years. We have patrons who first saw a play here 40 years ago. We have some who haven’t missed a show in 20 years.
The theatre was my dad’s dream. He wanted to be an actor, went to NYC, but had to return home to Kentucky, so he decided to bring “Broadway to the Bluegrass.” After he died, almost 10 years ago now, my mom and sister took up the reigns. Since I’d moved back to Kentucky to write, I’d help out when needed.
But when Holly died last year, I stepped in as Managing Director along with my brother Robby. Maybe we could’ve just let the dream die, but it seems impossible to even contemplate. So we work…we work really, really hard. We don’t just put on plays. We do an outreach program that teaches playwrighting to inmates at Northpoint prison here in Danville. We started a similar program to teach playwrighting to seniors this year. We were the force behind the hugely success first ever Danville Irish Festival, during which we mounted an original play set in Ireland, and organized Irish musicians, dancers, singers, and storytellers to come to Danville to give us a taste of Irish culture.
So much time! My husband jokes that I work over 100 hours a week in the summer! It’s certainly more than a “regular” job. It’s exhausting, overwhelming at times. But it’s also incredibly rewarding.
Night after night, I shake every hand that comes through the gates of the Playhouse. I give hugs to familiar patrons, just as Holly did. I ask them how they like the show after it’s over, and listen as they tell me “It’s the best we’ve seen yet!” Or sometimes they’re honest and say, “I liked the last one better.” But overall, they’re happy, happy to have escaped into another world for a couple of hours. And that makes me feel good, makes me feel it’s worth all the work that goes into keeping a 64 year old theatre alive.
“See you next year!” I call out to the crowd as they pass by, and for the last few nights there have been tears in my eyes. I’m running on fumes from the breakneck pace of the summer, am looking forward to staying home at night with my family, not having to deal with the million little things that pop up during the day. But when it comes down to it, I’m sad to say goodbye to everyone — actors and patrons alike — I’ve come to know all summer. This is the way my dad felt, I’m sure of it, and my sister too. It’s one of the reasons we Hensons can’t really ever think about saying “goodbye,” but always… “see you next year!”
My dad used to quote Shakespeare at the end of the season, as the actors drove away, waving good bye from their car windows. He’d say:
“Our revels now are ended,
These actors as I foretold you,
Were all spirits
And are melted
Into thin air, into thin air.”
In my book about a tween growing up at a theatre a lot like the Playhouse (Here’s How I See It/Here’s How It Is), I have Junebug, the main character quoting the words because her dad can’t just then. But it’s ritual for her, a tradition, and so it must be done. The show must go on.