Saturday, October 9, 2010

Our California

Our California. Written by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
The art in this loving tribute to the state is so colorful, evocative, and eye-filling that it is tempting to review the title solely as a book of pictures. The text takes the form of brief, four-line verses that highlight interesting features in the 14 locales, or give reasons for their historical or current importance. Some of the places are well known (such as San Francisco and Los Angeles) and some will be less familiar to children outside California (such as the Channel Islands and Eureka). The illustrations, done in brilliant acrylics, fill each spread with a burst of folkloric color and energy. The Capistrano swallows, the Forty-Niners in Coloma, the whales and otters along the coast—all are shown. The back matter includes an illustrated spread featuring the state flag, bird, insect, plant, and so on. It is a wonderful way to show children the spirit of California, and it could also be useful for families planning vacations.
-School Library Journal

I'm a big fan of Pam Muñoz Ryan's work and really had fun with the poetic journey she crafted through California, my adopted home. When I was offered this story I wanted to do more than a guidebook but speak from a personal perspective. I packed up the car and brought along the family traveling thousands of miles of the Golden State in search of colors and textures. The California coastline yielded a riot of hues and ideas for this book from San Diego to San Francisco. When Spanish galleons sailed up and down the shores in the 18th century, mariners chronicled the deep orange and yellow wildflowers of the region and called it the "land of fire". This picture I shot of my mother and son in Central California shows you why.

The twisted, dangerous San Simeon Highway was built by convicts in the twenties and thirties. It's an amazing feat and the cliffs plunge into the churning sea rich with islands of shifting kelp.

At Cannery Row we sampled clam chowder and watched sea kayaks and seals dodging the waves. Steinbeck got it right when he wrote about this place. The next day in sheets of rain we drove North to Moss's Landing for garlic shrimp at a local Fish Trap.

Traveling with my young son I watched him explore the beaches and climb rocks. We built fantastic forts out of pieces of driftwood at Moonstone Beach and on this journey I wanted to see things through his eyes.

The bounty of California's farmlands is legendary and I am greatly inspired by Mexican muralists like Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros. I wanted to convey the richness of the harvest and spirit of farm workers whose labor and gentle hands bring this bounty to our tables.

The deserts of California are filled with magical creatures and mystical rock paintings. I tried to bring some of the rich symbolism and patterns of native cultures out to play in the heat of the day.

Birds are messengers from heaven and here I was remembering watching the swallows perform their aerodynamic ballet when returning to San Juan Capistrano.

California is a state of mind and returning to my studio in San Diego I brought these memories to my drawing table and got started. I found a wonderful shell here on China Beach that I used to drag textures into the painted wood. A gift from the sea that helps me with my work.


  1. I adore this book. I'm a former preschool teacher turned au pair and my class of three year olds loved the illustrations and would always ask about California and point out where they have been. My favorite is the Palm Springs page :)

  2. Hayley,
    Thanks for your support of this book about our Golden State. I think the world of Pam Muñoz Ryan