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Now, I’m a East Coast boy, but I’ve visited California a number of times over the years.  I’ve seen some amazing things in the state, both natural and manmade, so a book dedicated to saluting the state is reasonable idea.  CALIFORNIA: THE MAGIC ISLAND is an interesting read unlike just about anything else on bookstore shelves.  Try to get your head around a book fusing myth, history, ABCs, the animal kingdom, and a tour through the Golden State.  This might seem like a bit too much to contain in the pages of one book, but it’s all woven together quite well for the elementary school crowd.

Author/Illustrator Doug Hansen has lived in California for more than forty years.  The love he holds for the state comes across vividly through his rich illustrations and entertaining prose.  As this book is aimed at small children, the writing is briskly paced, but does contain some challenging vocabulary.  His story centers on Queen Calafia of the mysterious island California.  She hears tale of a faraway place that’s named after her own island.  Her fury is quelled long enough to invite twenty-six animals from the upstart place to explain why their home is worthy of sharing the name of her name.  So, you see, the myth building occurs at the start then we get the ABC aspect as the animals tell a historical story about an object or place in California’s rich history.  In the end, the fate of the state with the most electoral votes is decided.

After the main body of the story, Hansen explains the history of Queen Calafia and her roots from Sixteenth Century novelist Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo and his book Las Sergas de Esplandian.  The novel was written following a century-long conflict between Muslims and Christians, and showed the Amazonian Muslim Calafia converting to Christianity at the story’s conclusion.  While the original story was written for purposes of propaganda, Calafia has become a true symbol of California in the intervening years.  She’s a strong woman with tremendous compassion, so I think she’s worthy character to learn about by our youth.

The text of the stories are important, but the artwork is the driving force to turn from page to page.  Doug Hansen makes this book work.  First, his illustrations blend all the elements beautifully.  Let’s start with the fantastical sequences in Calafia’s California.  The artwork comes off like ancient art you’d see in a classic work.  The style is perfect for the mythical elements.  As we get to the “real world” version of California, the artwork blends realistic depictions of animals, vehicles, people, or the architecture featured in that story.  Whether it’s fantastical or modern, you will love the artwork.

Diane Lee deserves a special mention for her work as Art Director.  The book is beautifully laid out and features a strong design sense that helps hold all the various elements together in a cohesive state.  So, when it comes down to the beautiful design, the amazing art, and the wonderful writing.  You have a  truly fun book that will teach as well as entertain.  As a parent and teacher there’s nothing more that I would want in a book.  

4.5 / 5.0