Magic: Once Upon a Faraway Land – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Mirelle Ortega, one of our featured authors at Kidquake this year, is also an illustrator whose debut picture book mirrors its title. It’s magic!

Let me tell you about the place I’m from,

a faraway land brimming with magia.

Powerful magic that twists and turns and

touches everything around you.

Text/Illustration ©Mirelle Ortega

With those words and this illustration, the reader is transported to a land where rivers twist and turn through lush green surroundings and cranes fly overhead.

Text/illustration ©Mirelle Ortega

It’s a place where rain kisses the earth and wild things flourish.

And people turn wilderness into harvest.

With lyrical language and vibrant images, we enter a land made abundant by hard work. A land where the author’s grandfather

“turned dirt into a sea of golden pineapples, glimmering under the warm Mexican sun.”

A land where threads of wool turn into intricately woven blankets. Where seeds turn into glorious shade trees where children play.

But this is also a land where the author learned that

“magic isn’t good or bad. It just is. Sometimes it gives, sometimes it takes.”

This is a beautiful story about the realities of our world. It can be gloriously beautiful, confusing, and sad. But the narrator affirms that

“even in the darkest moments, the spark of magic shines through.”

The book is filled with those moments of grace. Grace that is often the product of human love, kindness, and hard work.

“Like when blank pages become pictures.”

This book feels very personal, because it is. In her author’s note, Ortega explains that she wrote MAGIC to celebrate her place of origin, a place that continues to live inside of her. It is the story of her family, but it is made universal if we think about finding the magic that exists all around us, in our own families, our friends, and in the place that we now or once called home.

The end papers, pictured in the header, add even more color and pattern to this truly beautiful book!


Make a list of things that feel like magic to you. A seed turning into a plant? Ingredients turning into a cake? How a hug or petting your dog makes you feel better? Pick your favorite and write a poem about why it feels like magic.

A classroom, or origami-loving child, can try their hands at making an origami pineapple, using a unit origami technique.

Pair this book with Tofu Takes Time. How are the two stories similar? How are they different? One story is recounted as a memory, while the other is told in present time. But Helen Wu, the author of Tofu Takes Time, isn’t a child, so this must be a memory. Do the authors’ choices of perspectives make their stories feel different? How or why?

TITLE: Magic: Once Upon a Faraway Land


PUBLISHER: Cameron Kids, 2022

THEME: Creativity as magic, loss, hope, memoir

AGE: Pre-K through elementary school

For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.

9 thoughts on “Magic: Once Upon a Faraway Land – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. Patricia Tilton says:

    Wow! This is such a beautiful, yet realistic story about how our world can be magical one moment and challenging at other times. Gorgeous illustrations! I like how personal it is for the author and her family. Just added it to my list. Thanks for sharing today.

  2. Mona Voelkel says:

    This is such a moving review, Jilane, especially when you shared the author’s note. I am putting this on my TBR list and also using your activity about writing about “what seems like magic to me” for tomorrow’s journaling. Thank you for a lovely review and introducing me to this beautiful book!

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