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The Gum Chewing Rattler

Albuquerque Journal

Storyteller Joe Hayes Rattles Off Tall Tale With ‘Gum Chewing’ Yarn


Joe Hayes’ boyhood bubble gum habit blows a lot of life and a little legend into his latest book “The Gum Chewing Rattler.” The longtime Santa Fe storyteller takes readers back to his childhood when his talent for chewing a lot of gum earned him scoldings from his teacher. His mother also gets exasperated with having to clean up the shirt pockets where he stores his gum. Not to give too much away, let’s just say that an unfortunate snake bites off more than he can chew when he meets up with Hayes in the Arizona desert.

I read the colorful picture book with my daughter Natalie, a 10-year-old fifth-grader, and my son Nicholas, 4, to see what they thought. I was drawn by the desert setting since I grew up in Arizona. The vivid illustrations of Antonio Castro L. perfectly capture the vivid landscape of the Sonoran Desert— from the purple mountains to the almost lush plant life of ocotillos and prickly pear cactuses. Of course, there’s that very intimidating rattler that Castro L. draws.

Natalie liked the detailed attention the illustrator showed, particularly the facial expressions of the younger Hayes and his mother. (An afterword explains how Castro L. creates his very lifelike results.) I also liked Castro L.’s way of illustrating a younger Hayes with some nice retro touches like his Oxford shoes and leather bookbag. Hayes’ breezy, tall-tale storytelling style will surely delight younger and older kids as well as the grownup reader. And the sight of a rattlesnake blowing bubbles will get anyone to pay attention— at bedtime or otherwise.

“I thought it was really creative. It’s an out-of-the-ordinary idea to think of a rattler chewing bubble gum,” my daughter said. Nicholas agreed enthusiastically with that last observation, being highly impressed by the snake’s bubble-blowing abilities.

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