“Jack Be Nimble” as Mark Twain’s famous jumping frog? “Mary, Mary, quite contrary?” as a red fox tending a mission’s garden? These are just two of 26 Californian interpretations of Mother Goose rhymes that appear in Mother Goose in California (Apr.) by Fresno Bee staff artist Doug Hansen, new from Berkeley, Calif.-based Heyday Books.

In addition to introducing classic Mother Goose rhymes, the picture book doubles as an abecedarian and as a guide to native California plants and animals, which appear on every page. The rhymes play out in settings that include the Golden Gate Bridge, Hearst Castle, Yosemite National Park and Joshua Tree National Park; Hansen gives readers a “guided tour” of the species and landmarks that appear in his illustrations in the book’s endnotes.

Doug Hansen.
Photo: Randy

It took Hansen 20 years to complete Mother Goose in California. He did his first illustrations for the “Hey Diddle-Diddle” rhyme in 1987, but then set the project aside due to time constraints. He returned to the book in 2004, and when Heyday acquired it in 2007 it was nearly finished. Hansen had become acquainted with the press, which is a nonprofit organization and exclusively publishes books about California, while illustrating Letters to the Valley by agrarian writer David Mas Masumoto.

Hansen, whose paintings for the book have a decidedly vintage feel with ornate panels and borders, took care to make Mother Goose in California, with its emphasis on nature, educational as well as entertaining in its own right. Hansen’s brother is a field biologist and ornithologist, and he advised the author on technical elements in the story. “Doug would ask his brother questions about birds appropriate to different natural climates, and when a California quail was suggested for a certain illustrative locale Doug knew that it was scientifically accurate,” says Wendy Rockett, Heyday’s marketing and publicity director. “Doug comes from both an artistic and scientific family, and both elements play out in his new book.”

Mother Goose in California . Doug Hansen. Heyday Books, $16.95 ISBN 978-1-59714-101-7