cover image Jalapeno Hal

Jalapeno Hal

Jo Harper. Four Winds Press, $14.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-02-742645-8

Wickedly spicy jalapeno peppers are not for the meek, but cowboy Jalapeno Hal--hero of Harper's zesty debut--eats them like regular folks eat potato chips. When Hal moseys into downtown Presidio on his trusty horse Cayenne, everyone stays out of his way, for not only is he ``the toughest hombre in Texas''--he has ``mean breath . . . scorching-hot breath.'' Still, a boy named Kit admires Hal, and when a drought hits Presidio, Kit and Hal remedy the situation with Hal's favorite snack. This development creatively--if unscientifically--introduces the concept of condensation: rain-producing steam streams from the townspeople's noses and ears after they eat Hal's peppers. Despite his unorthodox methods, ornery loner Hal is the classic cowpoke and Kit has the enviable role of sidekick; girls, however, are excluded from this elite range-riding set, and Kit's demure mother does nothing more adventurous than weed the garden. Harris ( The Day the Lifting Bridge Stuck ) contributes polished illustrations of wavy black outlines and sunset-brilliant colors. Initial caps are branding irons, cacti or barbed wire, as befits the Western motif. Although Harper's debut treads familiar turf--and offers little to aspiring cowgirls--it will satisfy latter-day Davy Crocketts and encourage a craving for the piquant. Ages 4-7. (Sept.)