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Children’s books tackle the tough subjects of handling bullies and grief

El Moisés and Rudolpho Anaya

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two children’s books out this month deal with issues of importance to young readers, and, no less, to adults.

The bilingual book is “No More Bullies!/¡No más bullies!” written by Rudolfo Anaya, the dean of Chicano literature and the author of “Bless Me, Ultima,” and illustrated by Albuquerque fine artist El Moisés (Moisés Salcedo).

In the story, Jackie Jackalope is teased in her class at Wisdom School in Chimayó because she looks different. She has the long ears of a jackrabbit and the horns of an antelope. (Jackie is no stranger-looking than a unicorn.) A distraught Jackie leaves school for home.

So Ollie Tecolote, a young owl, and his buddy the winged Uno the Unicorn head out to apologize to Jackie for the class’s bad behavior. Ollie admits he had gone along with the teasing. The teacher advised that “remaining silent when something bad is going on is like being part of the badness.”

There’s a second, related issue in the story —— multicultural understanding. That arises when Jackie’s mom, a jackrabbit, and her dad, an antelope, explain how all of their neighbors get along where they reside. They said they had sent their daughter to Wisdom School to learn how others live.

The book, filled with fantastical creatures, is the second in the “Owl in a Straw Hat” series for ages 6 and up that features Ollie Tecolote and other fantastical characters. The first volume, published in 2017, dealt with reading as a critical tool in life.

The series is in English and Spanish. Enrique Lamadrid did the Spanish translation.

El Moisés will read and discuss “No More Bullies!/¡No más bullies!” at 3 p.m. Sunday Oct. 6 at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW.

Vanessa Vassar

The other children’s book is “Evan and the Skygoats” written by Vanessa Vassar and illustrated by Ophelia Cornet, longtime Albuquerque friends.

The story centers on how young Evan grieves over a loss ——the death of his elder sister, Sky. Evan hugs the trees because “that made everything feel better.” His mom said Evan doesn’t have to see her to feel her presence. She tells him that she and Evan’s dad won’t float away; only their thoughts did when they were grieving.

Ophelia Cornet

“Evan understood because sometimes his thoughts did, too,” the author writes. His parents assured Evan that they’d always be there for him.

The family accepts an offer of three baby goats. Feeding and playing with them assuages the family’s grieving. And it helps dad and son bond; they sit in a treehouse gazing at the constellations, one of them Capricornus, a goat with a fish tail. Evan flies up with the now-winged goats. Aiding Evan’s flying is his father’s cowboy boots, now transformed into goat boy boots. Soon the boots transform into goat hoofs. They meet magical creatures (constellations) such as Cygnus the Swan and Taurus the Bull.

The book is based on real-life loss, grief and emotional healing the author and her family experienced. Vassar’s daughter, Sky Velvet, died at age 13 of complications from appendicitis.

“It was very unexpected. When she passed away, she was my only child. I felt my entire world had disappeared,” Vassar said.

“I was thinking that grieving is the most exhausting, most painful thing I’ve ever been through.”

Almost two years after Sky’s death, Vassar became pregnant with Evan, who is now 7.

The back of the book has two categories of advice that Vassar offers readers ——”Love thoughts for someone grieving” and “Love thoughts for those supporting someone grieving.”

Vassar and Cornet read and discuss “Evan and the Skygoats” at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW; Vassar alone will discuss the book at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, at op cit books, 124A Bent St., Taos; and both author and illustrator will discuss the book at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at op cit books, 157 Paseo de Peralta, De Vargas Center, Santa Fe.