A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Finding Gold

Matthew Lasley’s first picture book is Pedro’s Pan: A Gold Rush Story, illustrated by Jacob Souva and published by Alaska Northwest Books in 2019. This whimsical tale manages to tell an entertaining story from the point of view of a gold pan (“call me Pan for short”) while also conveying basic information about prospecting for gold — a topic almost non-existent in children’s picture books.

Pedro's Pan: A Gold Rush Story
by Matthew Lasley, illustrated by Jacob Souva

Above all, Pedro's Pan is fun. Lasley focuses on telling a simple story for ages four to seven about the challenges and joys of a pan and his man in the wilderness. Parents and children may read the story solely for pleasure, while educators may use it as a springboard to spark interest in geology and to explore the social, political, and environmental repercussions surrounding Gold Rush history in Alaska and elsewhere.

Thanks to a well-written text, imaginative illustrations, and thoughtful pacing, the personalities of both Pan and his prospecting partner Pedro come to life as they search for gold. It is Pan, however, that especially shines. In Lasley’s story, Pan is more than a tool; he is a committed partner and companion who helps Pedro in unexpected ways and worries about letting Pedro down.

"On sunny days I shade Pedro's eyes.
On rainy days I keep his head dry."

Lasley smoothly incorporates basic information and vocabulary about prospecting into the story, including quartz, black sand, fool’s gold (iron pyrite), and panning. Pan’s voice is straightforward and engaging, with a touch of humor that both kids and adults can appreciate.

“What is it, Pedro? Do you see
a moose? Is it a bear? Did a
mosquito fly up your nose?"

Souva’s illustrations extend and complement the text with verve. Unlike the time-worn, stodgy historical images of Gold Rush prospectors we’re familiar with, Pedro verges on the cartoonish — in a contemporary, energetic way. True to prospector form, he still wears suspenders, patched jeans, and what I presume is a button-down union suit. But Souva’s style — a mix of what might be called naive with digital sophistication — gives a feeling of bringing the past into today. The red-flannel-patterned endpapers add a fitting touch.

Pedro’s Pan includes a brief note on Felix Pedro, a real-life Italian emigrant and prospector whose discovery initiated a second gold rush and the founding of Fairbanks, Alaska. Lasley also gives directions on “How to Pan for Gold” and “Gold Facts.” From his bio, we learn that Lasley grew up in an Alaskan gold-mining family and currently lives in Anchorage, where he teaches first grade.

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