Module 12: Julia Morgan Built a Castle

Julia Morgan built a castle


Book Summary:

Julia Morgan was the first woman to graduate from the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Art in Paris, France in 1902 and the first woman in California to be issued a license to practice architecture in 1904.  She was a driven, talented woman who broke barriers and followed her dreams even when they seemed out of reach.

Celeste Davidson Mannis tells the story of Julia from the time she was a young girl, through her education, and the establishment of her career.  She concludes the story with what many consider Morgan’s greatest and most certainly well-know project- the HearstCastle; a project which would span more than half of her 50-year career and earn her wealth and fame.

Mannis, C.D. (2006).  Julia Morgan built a castle. New York, NY: Penguin Group.


I enjoyed reading this inspiring story about a woman achieving so much at a time when the odds were stacked against her.  Mannis does a good job of relaying a story in a way that is interesting and engaging but not too complicated for the reader.  Julia Morgan becomes someone we want to root for and see succeed.  I also think this will be an eye-opener for today’s young girl to see what women struggled through not that long ago.

The illustrations are muted, but also suffused with light; a reflection perhaps of “The Golden State.”  The pictures are a good match for the story and support the text with interesting visuals that should keep the reader entertained and engaged.

I do agree with the reviewer (below) that it would have been nice to end the story with an actual photograph of the HearstCastle and even one of Julia as a girl and a woman.  I think that would have closed things out nicely.  Although, I did enjoy the author’s note about how she discovered Julia and her favorite structures that Julia constructed.  I hope someday to visit them in person.

Professional Review:

“The fruits of architects’ labors–from pyramids to skyscrapers–have been celebrated more frequently in picture books than architects themselves. Mannis’ choice of subject, the first female graduate of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, fills this void nicely, as the “little something” Morgan built for William Randolph Hearst on a California hilltop anchors the life story in a lavish project that will snare children’s imaginations. The lively narrative crystallizes the struggles against the gender bias Morgan encountered and brings the details of a large-scale building site to a child’s level, such as the movie screenings that entertained the castle’s live-in construction crew. The book’s large format and Hyman’s full-bleed paintings capture the grandeur of both Morgan’s aspirations and the dramatic landscapes in which she worked. A concluding photo of the finished structure would have been nice, as would notes about the provenance of material in quotations, but the unsung heroine and the handsome, engaging presentation counterbalance these missteps.”

Mattson, J. (2006, November 15).  [Review of the book Julia Morgan built a castle by C. Mannis]. Booklist, 103(6), 51.  Retrieved from

Library Uses:

I think this could be used in a model-building project, read along with some other architect or engineering books and then after have model building materials for kids to construct their own structures.

This could also be used in conjunction with Women’s History Month to showcase a real woman pioneer in the field of architecture.  There could be a subject focus over the course of the month- maybe one a week- and projects could be planned around that subject.

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Filed under 5420 Literature for Youth

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