Tucson-based Rio Nuevo Publishers recently launched Rio Chico Books for Children, an imprint specializing in picture books with American Southwestern or Western locales and themes. The new list extends Rio Nuevo’s description of its mission on the adult side—presenting “the best of the West in words and pictures”—to the realm of children’s books.

The line debuted in May with a time-travel tale, The Great Grand Canyon Time Train by Susan Lowell, illustrated by John W. Shroades, Published next in July was Southwest Colors, by Andrea Helman featuring Gavriel Jecan’s photographs of the region’s animals and vegetation. The Southwest is also the setting for the imprint’s two October releases, A Cowgirl and Her Horse by Jean Ekman Adams, and Desert Night Desert Day by Anthony D. Fredericks, with art by Kenneth J. Spengler.

At the editorial helm of Rio Chico is Theresa Howell, formerly managing editor of Rising Moon and Luna Rising, once the children’s imprints of Northland Publishing (which was sold to Cooper Square Publishing in 2007). Howell was brought on board in April 2010 by David Jenney, co-publisher of Rio Nuevo, who had worked with Howell when he was publisher of Northland. Howell notes that Rio Nuevo “had wanted to start a children’s line for some time, and part of the company’s inspiration for hiring David was that he had such a great track record in children’s publishing. So the stars seemed aligned to launch Rio Chico.”

Jenney also serves as art director for the books published under the Rio Chico imprint, whose name, Howell explains, “plays off Rio Nuevo, giving it a kid twist.” The list will include both fiction and nonfiction. “Our goal is to establish a line of high-quality, artistically focused picture books that put the Southwest into the hands of children,” Howell notes. “Our key market is a combination of local residents who want to share with their children books about their home region, and tourists passing through the Southwest.”

Howell, who works from her home office in Evergreen, Colo., says that she’s received “a great response from agents, authors, and illustrators I worked with when I was with Rising Moon.” She anticipates that Rio Chico will release four books annually. The imprint’s next releases are Celebrate Arizona! by Joan Sandin, due in January, a picture book-graphic novel hybrid showcasing this state’s history; and Guy Porfirio’s Jump!, an April release that relays the adventures of a traveling cactus.

Distributed by Treasure Chest Books, of which both Rio Nuevo and Rio Chico are divisions, the new imprint’s books are marketed to the trade as well as to gift shops, stores in national parks, and airport bookstores. “These channels are all important to us,” says Howell, “because we do see the tourist market as a vital one for Rio Chico books.”

A Cowgirl and Her Horse by Jean Ekman Adams. Rio Chico, $15.95 Oct. ISBN 978-1-933855-71-4

Desert Night Desert Day by Anthony D. Fredericks, illus. by Kenneth J. Spengler. Rio Chico, $15.95 Oct. ISBN 978-1-933855-70-7