Saturday, May 07, 2016

Book Review - California, the Magic Island

California, the Magic Island, written and illustrated by Doug Hansen, is a book that every California teacher should have on his/her bookshelf. But what is it? Is it mythology? State history? Alphabet book? Actually, it's all of the above.

Here's the overview from the back cover.
Queen Calafia, the legendary heroine of a sixteenth-century Spanish romance about an island overflowing with gold, is incensed with she hears that a state has been named after her. Being the good queen that she is, she's willing to hear from twenty-six animals about why California is worthy of her regal name. Each animal describes an iconic cultural object or historical event, enchanting readers—and maybe even Calafia herself—with their tales of the magical place called California.
Hailing from western New York, I have visited the state on a number of occasions, but know very little about California history, so this was a very nice introduction.

The book opens with an introduction to Queen Calafia and Her Magic Island. As all good stories begin, this one starts with "Once upon a time (or maybe only yesterday) ..." Readers learn about the Queen and her island, her fury at the use of their island name, and her command to her warriors to let the animals speak for California as she decides the fate of the people. What follows are 26 stories, each told by a different animal, each about a different event, location, industry, animal, or some other important piece related to California history or present. After their stories, readers learn about the judgment that Queen Calafia has made.

Back matter in the text contains information about the origin of the Queen Califia legend, additional information about each of the animals and the stories they narrate, and a note about the artist and the content of the borders at the beginning of the book. The illustrations are brightly colored, gloriously vibrant images that are nothing short of magical. I spent almost as much time pouring over the illustrations as I did reading the text.

I loved the story of the monarch butterflies, and will use excerpts from this in my science teaching. Other connections to science include stories about the La Brea Tar Pits, Mount Palomar Observatory, and Yosemite.

Hansen looks broadly and inclusively at California history. The stories are short, providing just information to pique the interest of readers. I know that I closed the book wanting to know so much more. This is a beautiful book with a story inventively told.

1 comment:

  1. That looks like a very engaging way for children to learn about my home state. Thank you for bringing it to my attention!