California Books for California Kids

Sara Rebman, Librarian, Children's Literature Department,
Collage of children's books about California
Books that show the amazing diversity of California’s regions and people

California, the golden state, has always inspired people. Over the years movies have been made, songs have been recorded, and books written. But are there any children’s books about our fair state? From picture books to nonfiction, every genre of children’s literature has paid homage to the iconic state of California.

A love of California has not only inspired the creation of numerous books, but organizations have awards to honor these titles and give them public recognition. The FOCAL Award and the Beatty Award are given to books written for young people about California.

The Friends of Children and Literature (FOCAL), a non-profit organization that supports the Children’s Literature Department at Central Library, founded the FOCAL Award in 1980. Each year they choose an excellent fiction or nonfiction children’s book that has California content. In conjunction with the award, there is an essay contest for children and the winners get to attend the award ceremony, read their essay aloud and meet the author!

This year the FOCAL award was given to Todos Iguales: Un Corrido de Lemon Grove = All Equal: A Ballad of Lemon Grove by Christy Hale. This bilingual nonfiction book tells the story of the brave Mexican-American families living in Lemon Grove in the 1930s who fought for their children’s right to an equal education. Details about the essay contest can be found on the FOCAL website.

The Beatty Award, founded in 1990, is given out by the California Library Association to books written for children or young adults that promote an awareness of California and its people. This year’s winner, My Papi Has a Motorcycle, written by Isabelle Quintero and illustrated by Zeke Peña, is a picture book based on the author’s memories of growing up in Corona, California. Following a father and his young daughter on a motorcycle ride around their town, the reader can see all the beauty and complexity of a rapidly-changing neighborhood

Below is a list of books that show the amazing diversity of California’s regions and people.

We Love California Reading List

The Echo Park Castaways
M. G. Hennessey

Foster children living in a home in Echo Park unite to find one child’s mother.

Pencils, Pens, & Brushes
Mindy Johnson

The true story of many of the women who made their mark on Disney Studios in the first half of the 20th century.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
Kelly Jones, Katie Kath

Sophie Brown experiences culture shock moving from Los Angeles to rural California, when her parents inherit her great uncle’s farm along with some magical chickens.

Stand Up, Yumi Chung!
Jessica Kim

11-year-old Yumi Chung keeps busy at school and helping out at her parents’ restaurant in L.A.’s Koreatown, but what she really wants is to be a stand-up comedian.

Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist
Julie Leung, Chris Sasaki

Follow the life of Tyrus Wong through his journey from China to America, his work at Disney Studios, and his art career.

Behind the Masks
Susan Patron

This installment of the Dear America series takes place in a California gold-mining town in the 1880s.

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag
Rob Sanders

Discover the story of the pride flag and Harvey Milk, a political activist from San Francisco who commissioned it.

Stef Soto, Taco Queen
Jennifer Torres

Stef isn’t sure that her family’s taco truck is going to be great for her middle-school reputation. Inspired by the author’s experiences in the Central Valley.

Biddy Mason Speaks Up
Arisa White, Laura Atkins

Biddy Mason was an enslaved person who fought for her freedom and then went on to become a business and civic leader in 19th century Los Angeles.

Front Desk
Kelly Yang

Mia Tang helps her parents run an Anaheim motel that becomes a haven for struggling immigrants.