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The California Coast: A Literary Field Guide (Stories from Where We Live series) Review by Wendy WalkerEditedSara St. Antoine
1011 Washington Avenue South, Suite 300
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55415
If you're planning to trek the Pacific Coast, consider putting away your hiking boots. Milkweed Press has done the legwork for you. The California Coast combines factual detail about the diverse plant and animal wildlife of this coastal terrain with fictional prose and regional poetry to form a literary field guide.
Created for children age 9 and up, The California Coast is one of six books in the Stories From Where We Live series. Highlighting the region from the California-Oregon border south to the Baja Peninsula, the book is divided into four sections. The first division, "Adventures" recounts unique Californian events such as the gold rush of the mid 1800s and the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. In section two, "Great Places," the reader can experience the coastal fog, take a walk along a marsh in Arcata, or learn about chaparral fires. "Reapers and Sowers" will appeal to the child fascinated by grunion runs, the true story that inspired Island of the Blue Dolphins, or the short-lived but ingenious mail system of Catalina Island. Of course, a Californian anthology would be incomplete without a look at its "Wild Lives," where the reader is invited to splash with the seals in the Pacific, watch the bougainvillea grow in busy Los Angeles, or laugh at an otter's antics.
One of my favorite features of the book is the lovely pen-and-ink wildlife illustrations by Trudy Nicholson. The book also provides informative descriptions of the habitats mentioned in the anthology. For those who prefer to experience this ecoregion firsthand, the book includes a list of parks and preserves and an index of stories referenced by region. Having lived on the coast for many years and within a short drive of the coast my entire life, I was happy to see some of my favorite locales included in the list. I was pleased, too, to find mention of the brilliant poppies, towering redwoods, dense chaparral, and majestic oaks that define California's coastal terrain.
Though many of the entries are entertaining (and some, absolutely lovely), the book lost a bit of its appeal as I found the need to skip chapter after chapter with my kids. Be prepared to read this book with discretion. Some of the stories include teenage rebellion, evolutionary hypotheses presented as fact, and hyper-environmentalist jargon. Choose carefully the accounts you'd like your children to read. But, if you're willing to skip a little here and there, by all means read! The California Coast is worth the hike (and the effort) whether you take it by foot or through the collection of essays, poems, and accounts in the Stories from Where We Live series.