Book Review: Mother Goose in California

Mother Goose in California, by Doug Hansen, Heyday (www.heydaybooks.com), 2009, 40 pages, $16.95

In this new collection of classic nursery rhymes, illustrator Doug Hansen has set the goose loose in the Golden State. From A to Z, each page pairs Hansen’s detailed illustrations with the good Mother’s superior stanzas. The result plays out in an alphabetical Animalia-esqe adventure where children and adults alike can challenge themselves to identify California’s landmarks and native species.

From the Basque shepherd dog tending flock in the Owen’s Valley (“L”: Mary had a little lamb) to the giant salamander and California tiger salamander wending their way through mushroom morsels (“R”: Rain, rain, go away) to the “Maid Marian” Sierra Nevada red fox in a mission garden amidst a wreath of monkey flower blooms (“G”: Mary, Mary, quite contrary), each alphabet plate is rendering in painstaking detail. The pages run wild with spotted skunks, California quail, and water ouzels, all inset with borders limned in garlands of stinking gourds, black oak leaves, sea shells, and jimson weed.

Two favorite plates of mine are the prospecting California Grizzly bear paired with a wizened donkey, assaying a desert landscape of prickly-pear cactus and Joshua trees (“D”: Donkey, Donkey, old and gray) and the Twain-inspired “Celebrated Jumping Frog” plate featuring a California red-legged frog draped in forty-niner attire gamboling in fields of gold (“Q”: Jack be nimble).

Hansen’s attention to detail is apparent in the California red-legged frog’s characteristic dorsolateral fold and tympanum (no mistaking it for an American bullfrog) and the San Joaquin kit fox’s trade-mark traits (oversized ears, leggy legs, black-tipped tail).  The only real short-comings I found were when Hansen breaks the fourth wall in rare occasions where domestic animals were chosen in lieu of any number of natives. Take for example the champion barnyard black hen of “E” standing in for such species as a sage grouse or quail, or the domestic tabby cat (“F”) and kittens  (“K”), two clearly unfortunate scabs for their seemingly obvious alternatives, the mountain lion and sabertooth cat.

Although these missed opportunities caught my eye, Hansen’s rich illustrations nevertheless do Granny good, making this tribute to Ma’ Goose well worth a gander.

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