Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘California the Magic Island

California the Magic Island by Doug Hansen will appeal to readers of all ages. Part history and part myth, the structure hails from Arabian Nights in being a series of interconnecting short stories that cover a diversity of subjects. As for the illustrations, the vibrant poster like pictures possess a bold classical feel which well suit the overall larger-than-life style of California the Magic Island.

Hansen used a Spanish romantic adventure novel from five centuries ago about a Queen Calafia and her magical island named California, where “black-skinned Amazon women, ferocious griffins, and abundance of gold” surrounded her, to establish the basic elements of California the Magic Island. Then inspired by Arabian Nights, Hansen added the creative twist of having animals tell stories to save their home state from an angry queen. In blending these two pieces of literature, Hansen created an imaginative story that readers will return to again and again. With twenty-six adventures, ranging in length from 200 to 400 words, there’s a lot to absorb. One is unlikely to appreciate the richness of each and every story upon the first read. Whether to reread the story of the wild horses of Death Valley who will not be mastered by humans or a desolate and savage land, or to reread the story of a Gila monster forced to leave his burrow when Californians wanted running water but instead got a runaway river, or to reread the story of a ground squirrel with underground gardens, readers will want to rediscover a forgotten tale or revisit a favorite.

There are other merits to Hansen’s book too. Aside from the aforementioned stories are the magnificent illustrations. The first half consist of fantastical sequences of Calafia’s California, while the latter half incorporates realistic depictions of architecture, vehicles, animals, and people of America’s real California. Soaking up the atmosphere of the illustrations took me as much time as appreciating the stories did. But there’s still more to enjoy. Ten back pages are dedicated to providing information about the origin of the Queen Califia legend, additional details about each of the animals and the stories they narrate, and a note about the artist.

My complaints about California the Magic Island are minor. One, although I realize the stories were probably kept short to meet the attention spans of modern audiences, I think they could have run longer in length. The tales in Arabian Nights are well over double the size, running closer to 1000 words. Second, even though increasing the size of the print would make for a bigger book, I think the increased friendliness of a larger size would have been worth it.

California the Magic Island should appeal to readers everywhere. The introduction to this golden state’s history will be admired, as will the tribute to fantasy and myth. Hansen has created a treasure. Readers can only hope more gems will follow.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

Doug Hansen picThe oldest of six children in an artistic family, Doug Hansen was born in California. He received both his BA and MA in art from California State University and was awarded the Dean’s Graduate Medal in the College of Arts and Humanities in 2001. He teaches illustration at his alma mater, California State University.

Hansen’s professional career as an artist developed during his 23 years as a staff artist in the Editorial Art Department of The Fresno Bee newspaper. He received the Fresno City and County Historical Society’s Historic Preservation Award for two published volumes of Fresno Sketchbook that collected hundreds of his pen-and-ink renderings of Fresno. Other highlights of his freelance career include: Fresno’s centennial poster in 1985 a collaboration with family members to complete the artistic work The San Joaquin River: Gravity and Light, which is installed in the Woodward Park Regional Library.

Mother Goose in California, an ABC book , was his first attempt at a children’s book. At Curling Up With A Good Book, He credits his editor at Heyday for instilling in him the confidence to write. As for what inspired his most current work, California The Magic Island, his publisher at Heyday suggested a California history book. In additional, Hanson was “reading some tales from the Arabian Nights at that time and the Scheherazade story inspired the twist of animals telling stories to save their home state from the angry queen”.

Thanks to Doug Hansen for answering a few questions about his life and his newest book. I’ll review California The Magic Island tomorrow. Save the date: May 11!

ALLISON: Have you always wanted to be an artist? Why or why not?

DOUG: I always have been an artist. From my youngest days I drew pictures.  Pictures in certain books fascinated me as a young reader – the more complicated the better. I always wanted to be the person who made those pictures, and now I am.

ALLISON: Who influenced your decision?

DOUG: My mom is an artist and has always encouraged and nurtured us. Out of six children, three of us have careers as visual artists.

ALLISON: What has been your favorite illustration project?

DOUG: I am perhaps proudest of my Mother Goose in California book. It was my first children’s picture book and I labored on it for years without even having a publisher involved. When it was ultimately accepted and published I felt like I had won the Golden Ticket from the Willy Wonka story.

ALLISON: Why did this project interest you?

DOUG: I love history, and I love California. Each book I complete reveals new landscapes, animals, and stories I want to tell. This book took me to new locations in the Golden State and allowed me create a series of little stories illustrated in an epic, luminous kind of way.

ALLISON: What kind of research did it involve?

DOUG: Heaps of research. My two decades as a newspaper artist at the Fresno Bee taught me that readers will notice if you get something wrong. Plus I am intrigued by the way things work and I have to understand everything from the brakes on a logging cart to the harnesses for a twenty-mule team. so I checked out piles of books, did lots of image searches on the Internet, and took road trips to many of the places pictured in the book. That was fun.

ALLISON: How did you tell an entertaining story but also make it fact-based?

DOUG: The key for me was to have the animals tell stories from their animal point of view. This compelled me to look at things with fresh eyes. The juxtaposition of an animal with a historic event (a pigeon describes the Tower of Jewels or a flying squirrel encounters a Pony Express rider) generated surprising storytelling dynamics.

ALLISON: Why did you decide to tell your story as a fantasy?

DOUG: It had to be a fantasy to get all those creatures from different times in one cave on the magic Island of California and – oh yeah – animals don’t usually speak in a language we can understand! Plus the legend of Queen Calafia just begged to be retold and how else could I account for those griffins?

ALLISON: What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators/authors?

DOUG: My advice is the sappy-sounding advice that aspiring illustrators and authors probably don’t want to hear: Write or draw the kind of book you have dreamed of, not what you guess might be in demand. Will it get published? Who knows – but at least you will have created something meaningful and personal and wonderful – a book to be proud of.

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