Book Review: When the Mission Padre Came to the Rancho

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

Other Books in This Series

• On the Eve of Revolution
• Servant to Abigail Adams
• Escape to Freedom
• Cowboys on the Western Trail
• Our Journey West
• We Came Through Ellis Island
• Hoping for Rain

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Another great book in National Geographic's great I Am American series is Gare Thompson's When the Mission Padre Came to the Rancho. This is rather a long title, but it accurately describes the main event of the book, which tells the early story of California, before it became part of the United States.

The main characters are Rosalinda and Simon Delgado, a 17-year-old girl and 18-year-old boy who live on a rancho near Monterey. The main vehicle for telling the story of early California is a visit by Padre Carlos Ramon, the Delgados' distant cousin, who is living in Mexico but who used to live in nearby Carmel, several years before.

The priest arrives for a visit and entertains the children with stories of life as it used to be where they lived, including a Native American uprising and a pirate attack. We the readers learn all manner of details by reading entries in Rosalinda's diary and Simon's journal and by reading letters from distant family members. These writings are also filled with references to life in the present in early California, including the simmering conflict between Mexican, Spanish, and Americans over who really "owns" California. (The echo of the Native Americans' claim that no one can own the land can be heard as well.)

Leaving nothing to chance, the author includes a visit from a Russian artist as well, illustrating the Melting Pot nature of the West before it was all part of the U.S. And the governor of Alta California pays a visit as well, affording Rosalinda and Simon a chance to see "royalty" close up.

Since the main events mentioned in the book happened some time before the present time, the reader is forced to discover the details by reading diary and journal entries describing what the priest told them. This is discovering details third-hand, and the book's format hampers the narrative a bit in this regard, since the diary and journal entries are no longer really eyewitness accounts of momentous events. However, this is a minor detail that shouldn't discourage anyone from reading (or buying) this book. This is a great little book, filled with wonderfully authentic illustrations and details on a part of American history that doesn't get a lot of press in most textbooks.

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