Children's LiteratureThe chain of Spanish missions stretching along the Camino Real from California's San Diego in the south to Sonoma in the north holds a fascinating story, and not just for Californians. This volume of Lucent's "The Way People Live" series explains religious and political motivations for founding the missions, but focuses mainly on details of daily life in the twenty-one communities established in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Dedicated men, Franciscan friars from Spain, undertook the seemingly impossible task of converting California's native hunters and gatherers to Catholicism, teaching them Spanish, and disciplining them into becoming hard workers and loyal subjects of Spain. Amazingly, for about sixty-five years the missions flourished, introducing formerly unknown trees, plants, animals, and crafts, and prompting the building of churches and workshops, thus paving the way for European settlement. In the process, the Indians' ancestral way of life was destroyed forever, even for those unconverted. While the native Californians are not neglected, the story is told mostly from the point of view of the friars and other Europeans. The text, clear if sometimes repetitive, is easy to read with bold subtitles, interesting sidebars, and plenty of black-and-white pictures. (The modern photos, though, would be more appealing in color.) For a closer look at the Indians' story, young researchers might want to locate the Lerner series mentioned in the bibliography, and for the romantic history of the decline and later restoration of the missions, the Sunset book listed is an excellent source. 2003, Lucent, Ages 10 up.
Barbara L. Talcroft