Once upon a time in California when it was still mostly Mexico, there lived "a little Spanish California girl named Ysabel...in honor of the generous queen who sold her rubies and emeralds and saphires" so that she could buy Christopher Columbus a ship. Ysabel lived "in a white washed adobe house with a red-tile roof, in a town smelling strongly of the sea. A balcony ran all around the top of the house and there was a patio in the middle, merry with Castilian roses". Ysabel spent her days under an old oak tree where she could watch "ships come into the harbor from Italy and China and Valparaiso. " What Ysabel did not know was the tree was a Fairy Tree, and every single green leaf on it was really a fairy. The fairies did not like people to disturb their tree and sometimes played mean tricks on those who sat beneath it. But Ysabel was such a kind and gentle girl that she never harmed the tree, and the fairies became her protectors. The years passed and Ysabel was no longer a little girl. Soon she " fastened her black hair high with a comb and wore a lace mantilla on Sunday when she went to church or attended the bullfights and Indian dances in the plaza." And she still loved to sit under the oak tree. Now, this young lady was an orphan, looked after by her three uncles, " Don Antonio, Don Andreas and Don Romualdo. And they were great cattle barons, owning enormous stretches of land where cattle grazed on wild pasture. " Sometimes they got mad because of tricks the fairies liked to play, like filling their hats with corn or skimming the creamy layer off the top of the milk. The uncles called the unseen trickstersy, Little Pagan Beggars" but they could not see them at all. "It happened that the Commandante gave a ball at the Royal Presidio, to which La Señorita Ysabel was invited. She wore " a saffron silk gown" and danced the night away. She had never before had the chance to dance with "officers in glittering uniforms, ships' captains from many lands, and likely young Spanish caballeros." One man was special, and even his horse was dressed up with "saddle trappings and bridle inlaid with gold and he wore heavy Spanish silver on his sombrero, because, in the old days of the king, the land was ripe with plenty." Now, this young man's name was Don Julio Romero, and Ysabel loved him. Her uncles liked his horse and the many, many cattle he owned, so the wedding day was set. But, before that happy day came, tragedy struck. Three ships "flying dark flags of South American pirates" dropped anchor and soon attacked the ranch. A terrible battle took place and all the men slashed at the pirates with their glittering swords and fired at them with their long rifles. Don Romero fought most valiantly of all, and soon the pirates were driven away. And that's when Don Romero felt the pain: he had been blinded by a shot from the pirate's pistols. "And Ysabel was very proud of him, loving the gay, blind, Don Romero even more than before." But her uncles were not happy. How could Don Romero remain a great cattleman if he couldn't even see? Who would look after their land when they were gone? They could not believe that Ysabel was standing by her man, but she could not be budged. So, they decided to do something very cruel and sneaky. They pretended to approve of the wedding, but made a plan to push the blind man over the cliff. It would be easy, they thought. So Ysabel and Don Romero made plans, gather fennel blossoms for the party. And then Ysabel remembered her old oak tree. She asked an Indian boy to help her gather branches from it, and told him, as they worked, of the many pleasant hours she had passed under it, and her love for the old tree. "Now, the Queen of the Fairies and all her subjects heard every word " and felt so proud that the decided to keep their shapes as leaves and twigs, and go along to enjoy the wedding day. The ceremony began with a choir of 500 little boys singing sweetly, then chanting softly while the Padre married Ysabel and Don Romero. "But just when the music grew louder and the bride and groom turned from the altar, the Green Fairies woke up, took their own shapes, and swirled through the Mission, a shimmering host of green, excited by the bells and canons and incense. " The fairies covered everything and soon everyone was "struck dumb with wonder", and that's when the Fairy Queen thanked Ysabel for inviting them to the wedding. As a gift, she said, Ysabel could choose three wishes. But there was only one thing she wanted, so she bent and whispered, " I have only one wish, your majesty. It is that brave Julio may see. " So the queen took "two magic drops of dew she had gathered the night before from a pecan blossom" and cured Don Julio Romero. Oh, how happy he was to regain his site and see his beautiful bride before him "in her starry headdress". The Green Fairies vanished, never to be seen again, but the uncles lived happily together for the rest of their days, and "Don Julio Romero could see farther and better than anyone else in all the lands belonging to his Spanish Majesty in those splendid old days of the king."
Notes: This is not a traditional fairy tale, but rather one made up by Monica Shannon, a well known children's author who won the Newbery Medal in 1935 for her book, Dobry. The story is evocative of the Grimm Cinderella with its theme of blindness. It is interesting to see that here we have a Cinderella who is already completely orphaned at the beginning of the story, and one who is actually invited to the ball! Three wicked uncles are a good variation of the trio of step mother and daughters. This book is illustrated with original Art Deco style black and white line drawings. The descriptions of Old California, the pecan blossoms and fennel plants, oak trees and salty air are delightful. It is available through the http://www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org/services_and_resources/online_resources.php.
Montessori Connection: Print out these images and the lesson on CA symbols below. You can make labels for each plant and animal.
Montessori Connection: Learn about the symbols for the state of California: