In last week’s post, I introduced the theme of Día de los Muertos and we looked at a book that inspires students to think about honoring ancestors. This week we will continue with our theme as I present a book that tells the story of a young girl’s relationship with her grandmother, tackles the issue of loss, and explores traditions particular to Día de los Muertos.
A Gift for Abuelita: Celebrating the Day of the Dead/Un regalo para Abuelita: En celebración del Dia de los Muertos (ages 5-8) is a bilingual children’s book written by Nancy Luenn and illustrated by Robert Chapman.
Here is a description from Goodreads:
“This affectionate picture book reveals Rosita’s sense of loss when her grandmother dies, and how the family works together on the Day of the Dead to restore the healing power of remembrance.”
The story begins by showing the strong relationship that Rosita has with her grandmother (abuelita). The abuelita teaches her to braid, sings with her about making tortillas, and shows her how to work in the garden. Soon in the story, she also falls ill and dies.
Rosita misses her abuelita very much. Her grandfather tells her that she can show Abuelita how much she misses her by making her a gift when she visits on the Day of the Dead. The book explains “On the Day of the Dead, families remember the people thy love who have died. Each family makes an ofrenda at an altar to welcome the dead. Everybody makes gifts for the altar.” Rosita decides to make a beautiful braid as a gift to her abuelita, and she works on it as her family and community prepare for Dia de los Muertos.
We learn about some of the traditions of the holiday through references to harvesting marigold flowers, lighting candles and incense, and preparing dishes such as chicken with mole.
As Rosita braids her gift to her abuelita, she remembers the things she loves and misses about her: her songs, stories, and wisdom. The book presents the braid as a product of Rosita’s love and appreciation for her abuelita. Her diligence in braiding works to guide the readers through the customs of Día de los Muertos, and highlights the importance of celebrating loved ones who have passed.
When the day finally arrives, Rosita becomes confused about when she will get to see Abuelita and has many questions about her afterlife. The book tackles this issue by having family explain to Rosita that Abuelita will visit them in spirit. It shows that though she cannot see Abuelita, she can still feel her presence by thinking about all the things she loves and remembers about her.
The artistry of the illustrations is truly beautiful. Using cast paper, the illustrator applied wet paper pulp into a wooden frame filled with shapes that worked as his mold. In the Illustrator’s Note, he says “Building molds this way forces me to combine and simplify shapes in exciting ways.” He used this technique and created textured, collage-like images, rich in deep colors, that resemble quilted textiles. The use of wood, twine, fabric, and beads enhances the effect of dimension in the images and gives the story a crafty feel- reflecting the way in which Rosita has learned to braid, and braids for her abuelita!
A Gift for Abuelita serves as an excellent resource to help children understand the meaning of the Day of the Dead. It would be a great addition to any classroom as it works not only as a bilingual book that teaches about the holiday but also as a great tool to teach about death and loss of a loved one in general. Below are a few more resources regarding this title and the creators’ other work:
- Here is a review of the book written by children’s book expert Elizabeth Kennedy.
- Check out more work by the illustrator Robert Chapman.
- Here is the author’ website and blog.
Images: Illustrations from A Gift for Abuelita: Celebrating the Day of the Dead/Un regalo para Abuelita: En celebración del Dia de los Muertos. Illustrator: Robert Chapman