Land and Culture

Cultural Convergence in New Mexico: Interactions in Art, History & Archaeology

Edited by Robin Farwell Gavin and Donna Pierce (Museum of New Mexico Press)

Compiled in honor of cultural historian William Wroth, this volume plays host to a variety of voices on how Spanish and Native cultures have interacted through the centuries. The persistence of cultural identity in agriculture, religion, art, architecture, and rituals such as matachines dances underscores their richness and complicates attempts to put a convenient stamp on any one of them. With chapters written by such luminaries as John L. Kessell, José Antonio Esquibel, Jonathan Batkin, and Enrique R. Lamadrid, the book reveals changes wrought by European desires for world domination and delivers a lesson for our times, spoken best by Santa Clara Pueblo historian Rina Swentzell: “How does one break that cycle of people wanting more and more and more of whatever they have already?”

The Ecology of Herbal Medicine: A Guide to Plants and Living Landscapes of the American Southwest

Dara Saville (University of New Mexico Press)

From native junipers to the toxic-vs.-healing interplay of sacred datura, Dara Saville explores the power of native plants to deliver botanical medicine. The founder of Albuquerque Herbalism, which teaches such lessons, Saville holds a deep respect for the natural landscape and the need to preserve it. She draws on medical research as well as the wisdom of Hispanic and Native healers and offers tips for home gardeners. Readers will focus especially on the 130 pages devoted to specific plants, including a few invaders like those dastardly Siberian elms—but don’t skip past the opening chapters, where she pays lyrical tribute to the desert and mountain landscapes now struggling to survive.

New Mexico Mission Churches

Donna Blake Birchell (History Press)

During the pandemic, many New Mexico tribes closed their borders to the public. This book fills a bit of our longing to return to “normal” life by devoting more than half of its pages to Spanish mission churches on pueblos. Donna Blake Birchell outlines each one’s often complex history. Like artist Marie Romero Cash’s Built of Earth and Song: Churches of Northern New Mexico (Red Crane Books, 1993) and preservationist Frank Graziano’s Historic New Mexico Churches of Today (Oxford University Press, 2019), it will inspire readers to get out and explore these emblems of faith in our state.

Books for young readers

Young Readers

The Dreaded Cliff

Terry Nichols (Kinkajou Press)

Rural New Mexicans know the havoc a pack rat can wreak on an engine or an attic. But in Terry Nichols’s imaginative tale of Flora the pack rat, humans are the real threat, along with coyotes, foxes, hawks, and the mysterious beast terrorizing Flora’s ancestral home. Armed with the wisdom of her Grandma Mimi, Flora makes a journey to a treasured nest deep within a fearsome cliff. Nichols, a former National Park Service ranger, imbues her talking critters—kangaroo rats, porcupines, desert cottontails, and owls among them—with winning, true-to-life characteristics. Who knew a rat could be so lovable?

Under the Cottonwood Tree: El Susto de la Curandera

Paul and Carlos Meyer (North Fourth Publications)

One day in the bright yellow bosque near Algodones, an enchanted bizcochito from a curandera’s kitchen transforms young Carlos into a calf. Villages along the Río Grande once brimmed with these kinds of fantastical cuentos (tales), and in their action-packed graphic novel, brothers Paul and Carlos Meyer pen a heartfelt tribute to New Mexico folklore while offering an effective crash course in Spanglish. Margaret Hardy’s cinematic panels add brilliant depth to this winner of a New Mexico–Arizona Book Award.

The Water Lady: How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation

Alice B. McGinty (Schwartz & Wade Books)

COVID-19 brought to light a sobering reality: Thousands of people on the Navajo Nation have no access to fresh water. Award-winning children’s author Alice B. McGinty first learned of that fact several years ago via a powerhouse named Darlene Arviso, a tribal woman who lives near Thoreau and dedicates herself to getting water trucks and other supplies to far-flung residents. Diné artist Shonto Begay contributes delicate and evocative watercolors to McGinty’s tale of a young boy and his alarm at the family’s dwindling water supply. The book lays a gentle path for talking with children about the inequitable distribution of basic resources while nurturing their compassion and finding ways that they, too, can help.

Soft Bright Fluffy: A Fiesta of Special Shape Balloons

Nancy Abruzzo (Museum of New Mexico Press)

Read this charming, short book out loud to your littlest listeners and ask them to point out  balloons in the form of bees, pigs, clowns, and other special shapes drawn by illustrator Noël Dora Chilton. Intrepid balloonist Nancy Abruzzo keeps the language simple, leaves room for interaction, and stirs anticipation for the next Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Home on the Rocking R Ranch; Kuper Visits the Rocking R Ranch; Farming on the Rocking R Ranch

Connie Perez (Rocking R Books)

Nara Visa rancher Connie Perez wrote and illustrated this trilogy of simple stories rooted in the plains of northeastern New Mexico. Each book bucks into ranch-style adventures that include a trip to the State Fair, a county dance contest, a harvest, and a calf’s birth. Along the way, Perez teaches readers about ranch buildings, parts of a saddle, irrigation systems, combines, and balers. Her colorful paintings may inspire your little cowboys and cowgirls to pick up a brush, as well they should: Perez didn’t begin to paint until a Parkinson’s diagnosis. Rather than ride off quietly into the sunset, she lassoed her talents into a new and brilliantly colored career.


Sue Houser (Texas Tech University Press)

Jounce along every rut in the road on 12-year-old Wilmettie’s covered-wagon journey from West Texas to the New Mexico Territory in the early 1900s. This chapter book gifts young readers with a strong heroine who encounters plenty of adventures—outlaws, rattlesnakes, rivers—on the way to her family’s new homestead. Retired social worker Sue Houser renders nuanced historical details right in time with Wilmettie’s sharp, sensitive observations.

Art books for the holidays


Eva Mirabal: Three Generations of Tradition and Modernity at Taos Pueblo

Lois P. Rudnick with Jonathan Warm Day Coming (Museum of New Mexico Press)

By the time she’d reached age 20, Taos Pueblo artist Eva Mirabal (1920–1968) was exhibiting work throughout the country. Her evocative depictions of everyday Native American life were shaped by the influential Santa Fe Indian School, but Mirabal’s signature style flourished in watercolors, murals, and what was likely the first comic strip published by a Native American woman. Rudnick’s in-depth collaboration with Mirabal’s son Jonathan Warm Day Coming draws on a trove of diaries, photographs, letters, and drawings discovered after Mirabal’s death, telling the story of a short life with a long legacy.

The Color of Dreams

Wayne Suggs (Mountain Trail Press)

Las Cruces native and New Mexico Magazine contributor Wayne Suggs has been photographing enchanting landscapes for more than 40 years. Cerulean dawns, desert alpenglows, lightning-infused sunsets, otherworldly rock formations—wherever magic touches nature, Suggs is there, capturing not only images but experiences. In The Color of Dreams, he generously outlines the backstories behind his most indelible photographs. His meditations on their creation provide valuable lessons in technique, patience, and the power of seeing.

Literature books for the holidays


My Book of the Dead: New Poems

Ana Castillo (High Road Books/University of New Mexico Press)

More than two decades have passed since Ana Castillo, a titan of Chicana literature, published a poetry collection. She’s got a lot to tackle—the Trump era, the border crisis, environmental threats, racially motivated violence—but these declarative, crackling poems confront their subjects with wit and grace, in English and Spanish. As she reckons with both past and present, she beautifully articulates her own legacy: “Nothing’s kept you quiet thus far. / Not then, not now, most likely not even from the grave.”    

The Five Wounds: A Novel

Kirstin Valdez Quade (W.W. Norton & Company)

Meet Amadeo, a 33-year-old wrestling with alcoholism and unemployment; Marissa, his dismissive ex; Angel, their pregnant teenage daughter; her grandmother Yolanda, who is hiding a big secret; and Tío Tíve, who doesn’t seem to approve of any of them. In The Five Wounds, five generations of the Padilla family grapple with ancestral trauma in the Española Valley, alternating perspectives as they work out their individual joys and sorrows over the course of a year. Quade’s debut novel blends an authentic portrayal of a contemporary northern New Mexican familia with breathtaking moments of redemption.    

Tony Hillerman: A Life

James McGrath Morris (University of Oklahoma Press)

Their names are known to most lovers of mystery fiction: Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, the tribal police detectives created by author Tony Hillerman (1925–2008). In 18 novels of Leaphorn and Chee’s escapades, Hillerman welcomed readers onto the Navajo Nation, illuminating a little-seen corner of the world with a veteran journalist’s eye for intrigue. In Tony Hillerman: A Life, award-winning biographer James McGrath Morris tracks the author’s movements with thriller-like pacing. From Hillerman’s formative combat tours in World War II to his years at the Santa Fe New Mexican to his latter-day incarnation as chronicler of the Navajo way of life, Morris colors in the shadows of one of New Mexico’s best-loved authors.

The Diné Reader: An Anthology of Navajo Literature

Edited by Esther G. Belin, Jeff Berglund, Connie A. Jacobs, and Anthony K. Webster (University of Arizona Press)

In his foreword to this compendium of contemporary Navajo writing, poet Sherwin Bitsui points out that most non-Native people are introduced to Diné culture by another non-Native, mystery writer Tony Hillerman. The Diné Reader brings together a chorus of voices that represent the Navajo worldview, from Blackhorse Mitchell, the first published Diné writer, to comics artist Tatum Begay, born in 1990. The text is equally accessible to classrooms and casual readers. It includes short, enlightening interviews from most of the 35 featured writers, a map of the Navajo Nation and Dinétah (the larger geography of traditional tribal land), a chronology, and resources for teachers and those who wish to deepen their foray into, as editor Esther Belin puts it, “the woven presence of Diné bizaad” (the Navajo language).

But wait, there’s more!

Check out other books and authors we covered this year.