María’s Journey

author: Karen English
illustrator: Neverne Covington 
McGraw-Hill, 2000 
grades 3-4 

María’s Journey is the fictional story of the Quintera family, one of “eleven brave families [who] were the founders of what is now the city of Los Angeles in September, 1781.”

María, her mother, father, two sisters and baby brother are traveling some 1,000 miles from Los Alamos, Mexico, across the Gulf of California, to Loreto, and finally up to Mission San Gabriel, near where they will build a new settlement. Some travelers have been left behind because of smallpox. When the family finally arrives at the mission,

María saw outdoor cooking fires where women were preparing food. She passed a large vat where cattle hides soaked. She looked up at trees with long, thin brown pods hanging from their branches. She heard the melody of a flute. She found everything interesting and wonderful!

In reality, the California missions were forced labor camps, where incarcerated Indian people were separated from their children, harsh manual labor was enforced by intimidation and brutality, and filthy living conditions were the rule. Indeed, some 100,000 Indian people died or were killed in the missions. But none of this appears in María’s Journey—only the “bravery” of a settler family, and the budding friendship between a settler girl and an unnamed Indian girl.

The [Indian] girl sat down next to María and smiled. She placed a necklace of shells over María’s head. Then María took out the yellow ribbon from her pocket. She pressed it into the girl’s hand. Now María had a new friend in her new home.

The drawings, executed in ink over pencil and filled in with mostly yellow and red watercolors, complement the text. The faces of the Quinteros are inconsistently drawn, and the Indians are either faceless or expressionless. The repeating pattern on every page is María’s yellow ribbon, which, on the last page, is tied into a bow, intertwined with the shell necklace her new friend has given to her.

Part of McGraw-Hill School Division’s “Adventure Books” series, María’s Journey is such a tedious, boring apologia for Manifest Destiny that the best part of it is that it’s only 16 pages, including the title page, three full-page and two half-page illustrations, and a map. Not recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 12/26/14)

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