A story of a farm family in US history

US Review of Books

Desert Almond Farmer - The Story of a California Homesteader and His Family

"After each day’s work, the night sky became my theater."

Agricultural science, history, biography, and memoir converge in this artfully constructed graphic text aimed at middle-grade children. The book provides an entertaining, educational experience that will also be enjoyed by adults interested in California's agricultural history and the personal reminisces of a family homesteading without running water or electricity in the Mojave Desert near today's Lancaster, California. A fun and quirky read, the love of family and the land shines through the voices of Frederick and Mary Godde and their children. The simple, natural living, hard work, and their love of the almond orchards and one another are readily apparent in the charming, carefully presented illustrations and photographs (almond photos by Mel Machado). In many ways, this book of interactive fun facts and compelling design makes studying history an enjoyable pursuit for readers of any age.

Frederick Godde left his home in rural Germany, where fourteen generations of his family farmed in the North Rhine-Westfalia region. As Godde gleefully relates, he arrived in New York City in 1885, the same year as the Statue of Liberty. With minimal but expressive text and a preponderance of bright, engaging illustrations, graphics, and photographs, the story has a steady pace with a smooth delivery that melds the various changes in era and topic. It tells how Godde took a train across the country to meet three of his brothers living in Los Angeles. Godde began his new life by working in a winery while learning English and dreaming of farming again one day. His dream came true in the form of a homestead, a government grant of land that required residents to commit to living on the land and improving it for five years. Godde chose to homestead 160 acres in the Mojave Desert, an environment challenging to survive in. He married Swiss immigrant Mary Weber and bore nine children—five girls and four boys. Readers will be reminded at times of notable film or literary families such as the von Trapp family in The Sound of Music or the homesteading Ingalls family in The Little House on the Prairie series.

In 1897, Godde decided to cultivate almond trees. Although almonds are considered today to be a water-intensive crop, by contrast, Godde and his family dry-farmed their almonds without irrigation for forty-six years. Godde joined the California Almond Growers Exchange, which started the Blue Diamond almond brand still sold in stores today. The narrative is filled with salient details about how the trees were cared for and almonds harvested by the family before crops were sewn into bags and sent to market in Sacramento. The deceptively spare narrative is, in reality, packed with loads of interesting detail about the almond industry and the Godde family's personal lives.

Author Stamets is a Godde granddaughter who never met her grandfather but grew up on the land he homesteaded. Her father is Frederick and Mary's youngest son (and youngest child) and continued to work the family farm after his parents passed on. An artist and photographer who shot many of the lovely contemporary photos in the book, Stamets marshaled many sources and mentors to assist in her quest to produce this high-quality and fascinating family history. This volume should be a welcome addition to the body of California pioneer history and a fun, engaging resource for school and homeschool curricula.

A 2022 Eric Hoffer Book Award Middle Reader Category Honorable Mention

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