Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Gold Fever! Tales from the California Gold Rush

Gold Fever! Tales from the California Gold Rush

Rosalyn Schanzer
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 10 and up
National Geographic, 2007   ISBN: 978-1426300400

It all began in January of 1848 when James Marshall, a carpenter hired by one John Sutter, was working on the mill of his employer. He saw something shiny gleaming in the bottom of the ditch. On examination the shiny object proved to be a small nugget of gold. In three or four days Marshall had found three ounces of pure gold. His find would not alas turn out to be “of much benefit” to him or John Sutter.

It did not take long for the news of the find to get out. Newspapers all over the country told of men leaving their homes, their jobs, and their families to go to California to try their luck in the gold fields. As the New York Herald said “‘Ho for California’ is the cry everywhere.”

Mind you, getting to California was no picnic whether one went by sea or by land. Storms, bad food and water, illness and much more were the norm if one went by sea. If one went by land one could count on having to deal with mud, broken wagon wheels, lack of food and water, illness, dangerous river crossings, and countless other miseries.

When one arrived at the diggings life was still very hard. Getting the gold out of the ground was hard work. Many of the prospectors lived in tents, living rough. Because there were no proper settlements the rule of law did not seem to apply and violence was rife.

As for the gold, well, a few men did indeed strike it rich, finding a great deal of precious metal in the ground, rivers and streams. Many did not however, and they left California worse off than when they came.

In this fascinating book Rosalyn Schanzer uses the words of eyewitnesses as well as quotes from firsthand reports, newspapers, and letters to tell the story of one of the greatest gold rushes of all time. Readers will discover how hard it was to be a forty-niner and how, for many men, unprofitable it was. Schanzer beautiful combines the texts she has found with her splendid acrylic illustrations which are detailed, often amusing, and which tell a great story.

At the back of the book, in an author’s note, Schanzer tells her readers a bit more about the Californian gold rush, where she got her information from, and how she created her art.