Fall is here and Día de los Muertos is just over a month away. As many of you know, Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead is a time when families and communities come together to recognize, honor, and celebrate loved ones who have passed away. This week I am delighted to share with you Honoring Our Ancestors: Stories and Pictures by Fourteen Artists, edited by Harriet Rohmer. This book offers meaningful and poignant examples of how people from different cultures can all uniquely honor their ancestors, and it is also a perfect example of a multicultural book, as it includes paintings from a diverse selection of artists, each with a distinct heritage.
Here is a description from Goodreads:
Through stories, art, and photographs, fourteen outstanding artists remember the ancestors who most touched their lives. Caryl Henry honors his grandmother and America’s first Black woman millionaire, Madame C. J. Walker. Nancy Hom’s father worked in a Chinese restaurant but possessed the strength of a mighty warrior. Mira Reisberg’s Jewish grandparents were killed in the Holocaust, but their spirit helped shape her life. Other artists include Hung Liu, Enrique Chagoya, George Crespo, Judith Lowry, Joe Sam, and Patssi Valdez. This book will inspire children and their families to honor their own ancestors.
Each page spread includes the paintings on one side and the artists’ statements on the other. Each artist dedicated his or her painting in honor of the ancestors who most influenced his or her life. The editor states in the introduction, “Some of these ancestors are family members. Others are ancestors in spirit. Some are still alive today. Others lived hundreds of years ago. They are African, African American, Chinese, Filipino, Jewish, Lebanese, Mexican, Mexican-American, Native American, and Puerto Rican-important people who usually don’t make it into the history books. They’re the heart and soul of who we are as a people.”
Grandparents are reoccurring figures throughout the book. Artists portrayed themselves with their grandparents, being guided by them, and learning from them. The first image on the right is a painting by George Crespo, where he depicts himself learning how to plant from his grandfather, and the next is a contribution by Hunh Liu, in which she portrays herself as a young girl watching her grandmother make shoes. Highlighting these special shared moments might result in students making an effort to spend time with their own grandparents, and being more willing to learn skills and wisdom that they have to pass down.
Parents and grandparents fill the pages, but some artists portray more abstract interpretations of ancestors, such as in the piece by Mira Reisberg where we find painted portraits of her relatives “in spirit,” including Albert Einstein, Frida Kahlo, and an indigenous group, the Kouri people of Australia.
The artists’ dedication page opposite each painting includes a photo of the artist accompanied by captions that include a brief biography. Each statement page also includes a photograph or portrait of the chosen ancestors. The text format is interesting to the eye as it includes a variety of fonts, colors, shapes and symbols, as well as a stylized effect of having the painting bleed across the spread, pouring into the statement page.
This book is a great way to combine the themes of National Hispanic Heritage Month as well as Día de los Muertos, as it can work to inspire children to honor their own ancestors, learn from and about their elders, and can be used as an introduction to a classroom activity in which students are encouraged to produce drawings or paintings of their own ancestors.
For more on Día de los Muertos, visit the LAII’s website to view and download our complete thematic guide for teaching about Día de los Muertos.
For more information about the artist and to view her other titles, visit Harriet Rohmer’s website.
Images: Illustrations from Honoring Our Ancestors: Stories and Pictures by Fourteen Artists pgs. 8, 18, 24, 20-21