Children’s book mixes Santa Fe Fiesta with learning, language acquisition

Santa Fe Fiesta’s Pet Parade (or Desfile de los Niños) is the inspiration for Judith Torres’ new picture book “An Alphabet Pet Parade in Topsy-Turvy Town, Population 26.”

Santa Fe native and author Judith Torres.

Torres, born and raised in Santa Fe, has many fond memories of the fiesta. But the event that remains most vivid is the Pet Parade, “seeing the other kids and their animals going around the plaza,” she said in a phone interview from her home in central California.

Those remembrances stuck in her mind when she started writing “An Alphabet Pet Parade.”

It is a fun, attractive picture book for children ages 3-to-8 or for adults to read aloud to them. The storyline is of a young girl named Zoe who has her grandpa’s permission to get a pet. Permission is granted after Zoe promises to feed, clean and love her yet-undecided pet.

Zoe attends the town’s pet parade to see what strange and wonderful animals other kids are entering in the parade. Page by page, readers view 25 of the 26 alphabetized animals before Zoe’s pet is revealed. It’s quite a surprise.

Scattered through the book is a repeated hint to Zoe’s unnamed “little critter that strayed out of the crowd into the parade …”

The type of pets and the names of the pet owners represent letters of the alphabet. Here are a few of the owners and their pets: (for F) “Fanny F. Forest, who had an unusual fear of trees, flaunted her fox … (for G) George G. Goodday, the grouchiest guy in town, galloped next to his gazelle … (for N) Natasha N. Noisy, who never raised her voice, nudged her newt…”

Indeed, some pets are pretty obscure. There’s the quoll, a small marsupial found in the forests of Australia and New Guinea; the vicuna, a wild cousin of the llama found in the mountains of South America; and the xenops, a bird often found in tropical rainforests in Latin America.

Oh, for the letter U is the mythical unicorn is unleashed by its owner, Ulysses U. Underdog.

None of the animals is a dog, which one is likely to see in costume in Santa Fe’s Pet Parade.

Torres’ book is also enjoyably instructional. Besides promoting interest in the alphabet and in diverse members of the animal kingdom, the author purposefully weaves in other concepts aimed at helping children with language development and literacy. Concepts such as action verbs, opposites, word and letter sounds, and alliteration.

Torres knows about language development. Now semi-retired, she has been a reading specialist, a teacher of English as a second language and a speech language pathologist. Her expertise is in language development and acquisition.

“In my case, I’ve mostly been working with preschool-age children that have language delays and disorders,” she said. Delays, Torres said, refers to a child who for some reason, isn’t speaking a certain number of words at a certain age level.

There’s a back-of-the-book glossary of the animals referenced in the story, with the alphabet in upper- and lower-case letters and a photograph of the accompanying lettered animal. (The glossary inserts zebra as the animal for Z.)

After the glossary are two pages with questions that children to ask to learn more about the story, about letters, sounds and the alphabet.

The book presents an ethnically diverse community.

Christiane Engel is the illustrator of “An Alphabet Pet Parade.”

Engel’s illustrations are made lovable with their warm, contrasting colors against a background of flat-roofed, adobe-style buildings à la Santa Fe.

Santa Fe native and author Judith Torres.

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