Ann Cummins recommends children's books for the holidays

Flagstaff, AZ – Competing in the children's book market has been called a "bunny eat bunny world." But the holidays are upon us. In her December review, writer Ann Cummins leaves the bad bunny books to another time, and offers a word of praise for three picture books guaranteed to please the younger set.

Every couple of years Rudolfo Anaya takes a break from mystery writing and spins a western tale for kids. In his latest, Juan and the Jackalope, Juan, a young buckaroo, races Pecos Bill, a braggart, for the lovely Rosita, who bakes a tasty rhubarb pie. Leaping jackalopes and hoppity grasshoppers bound through New Mexico, Texas and beyond. Illustrator, Amy Cordova, captures the race in a rainbow of color, a different hue on every page. It's a good book for children learning their colors, and for would-be poets. Juan and his Jackalope race to the sound of a rhyme and leave gravity behind. There are unicorns and dragons and mischief as big as Texas. What more could a kid, or the kid in all of us, want?
In another delightful picture book, Phoebe and Chub, amphibians and fish take flight. Local storyteller, cartoonist and songster, Matthew Hall teamed with a wonderful illustrator, Sheila Aldridge, to create a frog named Phoebe, a fish named Chub, and the fantastic real place where they live: The Grand Canyon. Do you want your two year old to love the Canyon as much as you do? This book captures the magic. Within the Canyon's glorious crimson cliffs, grinning coyotes and zippy geckos and placid big horn sheep come alive in truly vibrant illustrations that will captivate all ages.
Mix a little history with a piece of bubblegum and a grandmother's magic, you'll have the formula for time travel. In NAU professor Monica Brown's latest book, Chavela and the Magic Bubble, Chavela is the chicle queen. Chicle isn't just any old bubblegum. It comes from the sapodilla tree deep in Mexico's rainforests. Chavela's abuelita tells her about how Chavela's great grandfather, a chiclero, harvested sap for gum from this wondrous tree. Chavela puts her lips to it, blows a bubble twice her size. It's a voluminous and pink bubble that illustrator Magaly Morales splashes beautifully across the pages. Chavela finds herself airborne, hanging by her teeth. Here, Monica Brown steps into a Marquezian world of magical realism. She uses fantasy to enliven history in a playful but educational story that will give beginning readers good reason to read.
Chavela and the Magic Bubble won't be available until New Year's, but what a wonderful way for your young learner to start the year. For the holidays, consider a play date with Juan and Rosita, Phoebe and Chub. I can't think of better company.