New bilingual children´s book features Portuguese-American experience
SAN JOSÉ, Calif. — A couple years ago, Kate Morejohn had an idea for a children’s book featuring a Portuguese-speaking family living in California, and she ran with it.
“I usually go running in an area that looks a lot like the Azores and has all these dairy farms owned by Portuguese families. So, I started developing in my head this story of a young Portuguese farmer’s daughter named Maria,” Morejohn told O Jornal, during a phone interview from her home in northern California.
The story eventually evolved into her debut book “Maria and the Lost Calf,” which was published by Portuguese Heritage Publications of California last month.
Written in both English and Portuguese, the story takes place in the Marin Headlands of California at the turn of last century, when little Maria loses her calf that is going to be donated to the Holy Ghost Festa and gets lost looking for it. During her overnight escapade, Maria reminiscences about her hometown in the Azores, the family and friends she left behind, and her long trip from the archipelago to California.
The 44-page hardcover book features watercolor illustrations by Dwight Morejohn, the author’s husband.
“I did some research, but I also was around Portuguese all my life,” said the author, a native of northern California. “I am fascinated by the [Portuguese] culture.”
Although not Portuguese, she said both she and her husband can identify with Portuguese families who have earned their livelihood in northern California dairy farms.
“We were raised on ranches, came from large families and did not have a lot of money,” she said. “Like them, we know what’s like to work hard and be part of a close-knit family.”
José Rodrigues, founding member of Portuguese Heritage Publications of California who currently chairs the five-member Evaluations Committee responsible for reviewing every manuscript and making the recommendation to publish it or not, said as far as he knows this is the first children’s book featuring a Portuguese family or incorporating Portuguese traditions.
“The book brought together various important aspects of the Portuguese experience in California,” he said. “Add the fact that the book is bilingual and one had all the elements of a must publish for Portuguese Heritage Publications.”
The book, which is primarily recommended for children ages two to 12, is also a “history lesson and an educational tool about immigrants and California history.”
The public reaction has been overwhelming, he said.
“From day one, when we first placed the book on sale at the Dia de Portugal in San Jose, the adult public has bought the book with the intention of using it to pass on some of the traditions and the language to their children and grandchildren. The children, meanwhile, have been fascinated by the story and the beauty of its illustrations,” he said.
The book is available at www.PortugueseBooks.org for $15 plus taxes and shipping. Orders can also be placed by calling 408-272-1222.
“We have not scheduled any presentations in the East Coast due to the tremendous expense, however, it could happen if we were able to combine a presentation of this book with some of our other publications,” Rodri-gues said. “Given the beauty of the story and the fact that it is bilingual, this book could very well be used to raise funds by a non-profit.”