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Not to be confused with A Light in the Storm (play).

"We are fighting a war of our own here. To keep the Light, in all weather, under every adversity. The other night when I struggled to restore the voice of the buoy bell, then we were soldiers in battle against the elements. Certain battles must be fought. I will fight to keep the Light. I will fight to keep Mother, too, in whatever way I can have her."
—Amelia Martin[2]

A Light in the Storm: The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin is the fifteenth book in the Dear America series by Scholastic. It was written by Karen Hesse and is her only book for the series. The book was first published in September 1997 and was republished in March 2011 with new cover art. It was followed by Color Me Dark. A stage play based on the book was performed in 2001.

In the midst of the Civil War, Amelia Martin finds her family and her small town in Delaware divided on the issue of slavery.


"This book is dedicated to all Lightkeepers—past, present, and future—who kindle their lamps of hope against the darkness."

Book description[]

"Thursday, February 28, 1861
P. Cloudy. Wind N.W. Fresh.

Mr. Lincoln has arrived at last in Washington....
In one week, he inherits the trouble of this great, unhappy country. In one week, the responsibility will be his—whether we come together again as a Union, or fall entirely to pieces. And here we sit, in Delaware, on the border between North and South, half the state holding slaves, half the state opposed to the practice....
It is hard enough to hold a family together. Poor Mr. Lincoln. It is in his hands to hold a whole country....My hands are calloused and strong from rowing and working the ropes, from lifting and carrying barrels of oil and scrubbing stone floors and spiral stairs, but I do not know if they are strong enough to hold Mother and Father together.
Mr. Lincoln's hands...they must be a thousand times stronger than mine. Please God, give Mr. Lincoln strong hands.

"My name is Amelia. This is my story....
Amelia Martin's father was stripped of his post as a ship's captain when he was caught harboring the leader of a slave rebellion. Now he is an assistant lighthouse keeper on Fenwick Island, off the coast of Delaware—a state wedged between the North and the South, just as Amelia is wedged between her parents. Amelia's mother blames her abolitionist husband for their living conditions, which she claims are taking a toll on her health.
As the Civil War rages on, Amelia slowly learns that she cannot stop the fighting, but by keeping watch in the lighthouse each day, lighting the lamps, cleaning the glass, and rescuing victims of Atlantic storms, she can make a difference.


Fifteen-year-old Amelia Martin lives on Fenwick Island, Delaware. Her father, John, works as the assistant lightkeeper of the Fenwick Island Light. As an unofficial assistant, Amelia watches the light nightly and loves doing so. For Christmas of 1860, she is happy to see her parents in good spirits. Lately, they have been fighting more and more often. Her mother, Mildred, hates the island and disagrees with her husband about slavery. Mildred is pro-slavery while John is against it, causing frequent arguments. After Christmas, Amelia visits her uncle, Edward, at his store in the nearby town of Bayville. He informs her about South Carolina voting to secede from the United States, which worries Amelia.

Amelia later loses her best friend, William Worthington, when he drowns after falling through an icy pond. Later on, several more states secede and the Confederate States elect their own "president." Amelia begins to see the deep divide among the townspeople of Bayville, many of whom sympathize with the secessionists. Her own views align with her father and uncle, whom both believe in abolitionism. In early March, Abraham Lincoln is officially sworn in as president, which causes yet another fight between Amelia's parents. Meanwhile, Amelia seeks out help from Dr. McCabe for her mother's ailments. Mildred confides in Dr. McCabe like a friend and Amelia realizes how lonely she must be.

In April, Amelia becomes closer to Daniel Worthington, the older brother of her late friend William. A few days later, the war officially starts. Amelia starts to worry that her father will want to enlist like Daniel. Before leaving, Daniel asks Amelia to "wait for [him]." In-mid July, a new head lightkeeper, Robert Hale, comes to Fenwick with his large family. Amelia enjoys the company of his lively children, but her mother only becomes more agitated. Keeper Hale decides to hold a party around raising a pole for the national flag. Amelia's mother refuses to provide anything for it. Oda Lee Monkton, a woman whom scavenges the island, comes to Amelia's rescue with a basketful of supplies.

Later, Keeper Hale writes to the Lighthouse Board about Amelia. She soon receives an official position and salary. Meanwhile, Daniel comes home from mustering for a three week visit before officially heading off to war. Amelia's mother finally leaves Fenwick Island to live with her mother in Bayville. Her mother's health begins to improve and Amelia visits her often. Amelia's father starts acting strangely and she starts to worry he is going to enlist after seeing some papers. She eventually confides in uncle about her worries. That night, her father informs Amelia that the papers were actually divorce papers that he gave to her mother. Amelia decides to stay with her father and continue watching over the light.


Mildred passed away in 1862 after having a seizure. The following year, Amelia took over her father's position as assistant lightkeeper after he resigned following a stroke. She and Daniel married, but lived together only briefly. He soon headed out west, where he worked as a supervisor for the transcontinental railroad. The night of his death in 1913, Daniel asked for a candle to be lit in a wooden carving of a lighthouse. The carving, along with her personal effects, were sent to Amelia. In 1869, she was appointed head lightkeeper of the Ragged Island Light off the Maine coast. She saved twenty-two lives and received various commendations before retiring in 1920. Amelia died in 1940 at the age of ninety-five.

Oda Lee continued scavenging ships until her death in 1866. Keeper Hale stayed on at Fenwick Island until 1871, when he moved his entire family for a government position in Alaska. His daughter, Alice, remained at Fenwick to look after John until his death 1878. She married Creighton Sydney in 1871 and had seven children, whom brought John "great joy" in his final years. Upon furthering his education, Edward left Bayville in 1872 for a teaching position at University of Oregon. In 1887, he passed away and left all of his possessions to his common-law wife, Daisy.

Historical Note[]

Delaware was officially a slave state but voted against joining the Confederacy. It laid on the border between the North and South, "between freedom and slavery." In 1860, Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election. Southern states were "alarmed" as Lincoln "believed that slavery should not spread beyond its present borders." Seven states seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States. Lincoln was resolved to preserve the Union but would not declare war until the Battle of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. A further four states seceded. Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky were border states which remained with the Union but the citizens within were still very much "divided" by the war.

Abolitionists wished to eradicate slavery completely from the country, while some Northerners were content to restore the Union back to "half slave and half free." However, as the war raged on, it became clear to both sides that neither was going surrender "except in the face of total military defeat." To destroy the Confederacy, the institution also had to be destroyed. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The Confederacy collasped two years later. Slavery was ended in the United States, but "racial equality would prove to be a long way off." Twelve illustrations are included, along with two maps and a recipe for pumpkin pie filling.


Main article: List of A Light in the Storm characters



Poster for the play

Main article: A Light in the Storm (play)

A Light in the Storm was the first play commissioned by the Kennedy Center. After ending its initial run in 2001, the play went on a national tour across America. Kimberly Gilbert portrays Amelia with Clinton Brandhagen, Jennifer Gerdts, and Kevin Reese each playing multiple characters.


Main article: Karen Hesse

Karen Hesse is a poet and author whom writes for children and young adults in the historical fiction genre. A Light in the Storm is her sole entry in Dear America. While researching, Hesse read about the lightkeeper Ida Lewis whom she used as a model for Amelia. She focused on lightkeeping as she liked the juxtaposition of the "light burning in the darkness" to the "darkness spreading over [the] country."



"This book could not have been written without the assistance of Gladys Kennery, Wayne Wheeler of the U.S. Lighthouse Society, Paul Pepper, Tracy Mack, Jean Feiwel, Bernice Millman, Zoe Moffitt, Martha Hodes, Liza Ketchum, Bob and Tink MacLean, Eileen Christelow, Kate, Rachel, and Randy Hesse, Ken Black, The Library of Congress, Tim Harrison, Lorinda White, and Richard Shuldiner of the Brooks Memorial Library."


  • The portrait on the cover of the first edition is a detail of the 1883 painting The Umbrella by Marie Bashkirtseff. The background is a detail from the 1847 painting Desert Rock Lighthouse by Thomas Doughty.[5][6][7]
  • The portrait on the cover of the second edition was illustrated by Tim O'Brien. The background is a detail from the painting The Light at Fenwick Island by William S. Dawson.[8][9]


See also[]

Arts & Crafts, File:A Light in the Storm Discussion Guide.pdf

Dear America

A Journey to the New World | The Winter of Red Snow | When Will This Cruel War Be Over? | A Picture of Freedom
Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie | So Far from Home | I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly
West to a Land of Plenty | Dreams in the Golden Country | Standing in the Light | Voyage on the Great Titanic
A Line in the Sand | My Heart Is on the Ground | The Great Railroad Race | The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow
A Light in the Storm | Color Me Dark | A Coal Miner's Bride | My Secret War | One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping
Valley of the Moon | Seeds of Hope | Early Sunday Morning | My Face to the Wind | Christmas After All
A Time for Courage | Where Have All the Flowers Gone? | Mirror, Mirror on the Wall | Survival in the Storm
When Christmas Comes Again | Land of the Buffalo Bones | Love Thy Neighbor | All the Stars in the Sky
Look to the Hills | I Walk in Dread | Hear My Sorrow


The Fences Between Us | Like the Willow Tree | Cannons at Dawn | With the Might of Angels | Behind the Masks
Down the Rabbit Hole | A City Tossed and Broken

External links[]