Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop Slave Explorer
Written by Heather Henson and Illustrated by Bryan Collier
Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, September 6, 2016
Ages 4 to 8
“The past is like a cave sometimes, dim and dusty, and full of twisting ways,” begins “Lift Your Light a Little Higher,” which tells the story of Stephen Bishop, a slave who served as a tour guide in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave from 1838 to 1857.
"I know a few things ‘bout leading folks around inside the dark, showing off sights that have never been seen,” the story continues in the voice of its main character.
As a cave guide, Bishop gained notoriety in his day, writes author Heather Henson in an author’s note. Writers who visited the cave said he was eloquent and intelligent in his deep knowledge of the cave, the longest cave system in the world with more than four hundred miles of mapped underground passageways.
Henson wanted to tell Bishop’s story because despite his being known when he was living, his story had been largely forgotten. She had to imagine what he might say because so little had been written about him.
Though it was against the law to teach slaves to read and write, Henson taught himself to write when he showed tourists how to make marks with candle flames on the cavern walls. They wrote their names and he learned his letters.
He was the first person to draw an extensive map of Mammoth Cave and the first to cross a previously impassable chasm called the “Bottomless Pit.” He also discovered a new species of eyeless fish and albino crawfish in the underground rivers of Mammoth Cave.
“Down here, I am Guide – a man able to walk before other men, not behind,” says the narrator, “a man able to school even the brightest scholar: a man able to bring a crowd of folks deep into the belly of the earth and back again, safe and sound. A man – down here, that’s what I am – a man, not just a slave.”
Bishop married and had a son. His master promised him that one day he would free him and his family. It turned out that Bishop wasn’t freed until one year before his death at 37 of unknown cause. He was buried near the entrance to Mammoth Cave.
The story is dramatically and lyrically told. The illustrations are even more beautiful and dramatic. All of the well-constructed images are two-page spreads. They boldly speak to the reader drawing him/her into the story of the slave cave explorer and guide.
About the Author and Illustrator:
Heather Henson lives on a farm in Kentucky with her husband and three children, and is the author of several picture books and novels, including “That Book Woman” and “Dream of Night.”