It’s that time of year! This week I’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite Día de los Muertos books, from which students can learn more deeply about the holiday’s traditions and history. The Día de los Muertos fiesta is a time for honoring and remembering. It is a time for celebrating family, ancestors, history, and loved ones who have passed away. It is mainly celebrated in Mexico, Guatemala and the United States, fusing Native Mesoamerican traditions with Spanish traditions. On our site, you can click on our Día de los Muertos tab under “Our Most Popular Themes” to see our many posts about Day of the Dead. Just this week Charla posted a video that teaches the meaning behind Día de los Muertos, and Katrina posted about Pictorial Input Charts for teaching about it in the classroom. Furthermore, we have a Halloween and Día de los Muertos Roundup of Books that is worth checking out. I hope you enjoy this month’s Reading Roundup, and that it helps with the teaching of this exciting holiday!
Written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers
Age Level: 6-10
Funny Bones tells the story of how the amusing calaveras—skeletons performing various everyday or festive activities—came to be. They are the creation of Mexican artist José Guadalupe (Lupe) Posada (1852–1913). In a country that was not known for freedom of speech, he first drew political cartoons, much to the amusement of the local population but not the politicians. He continued to draw cartoons throughout much of his life, but he is best known today for his calavera drawings. They have become synonymous with Mexico’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival. Juxtaposing his own art with that of Lupe’s, author Duncan Tonatiuh brings to light the remarkable life and work of a man whose art is beloved by many but whose name has remained in obscurity.
Throughout the Day of the Dead festivities, we see the famous calaveras everywhere. But where do they originate? In his book, Tonatiuh teaches us exactly that. The calaveras were a response to the Mexican Revolution, created by José Guadalupe Posada. This book teaches about the historical and political significance of the creation of these calaveras, as well as the artistic process of their creation. Tonatiuh tells this story in a way that is relatable to children, and his illustrations mix well with the skeletons of Posada. Also, the Horn Book posted an interview with Tonatiuh about the writing of Funny Bones that I recommend. We hope you enjoy this book as much as we do!
Día de los Muertos
Written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong
Illustrations by Carles Ballesteros
Published by Albert Whitman & Company
Age Level: 4-7
It’s Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and children throughout the pueblo, or town, are getting ready to celebrate! They decorate with colored streamers, calaveras, or sugar skulls, and pan de muertos, or bread of the dead. There are altars draped in cloth and covered in marigolds and twinkling candles. Music fills the streets. Join the fun and festivities, learn about a different cultural tradition, and brush up on your Spanish vocabulary, as the town honors their dearly departed in a traditional, time-honored style.
In this book, Roseanne Greenfield Thong emphasizes the Día de los Muertos as a time of celebration rather than a time of sadness. It is a time for honoring those who have passed, and for having fun as a family or community. Carles Ballesteros’ artwork further highlights the communal and celebratory aspects of the holiday with pictures showing the simultaneous preparations and traditions of the holiday. I think that young kids will really enjoy this book, especially its artwork.
Just A Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book
Written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Published by Chronicle Books
Age Level: 4-8
In this original trickster tale, Señor Calavera arrives unexpectedly at Grandma Beetle’s door. He requests that she leave with him right away. “Just a minute,” Grandma Beetle tells him. She still has one house to sweep, two pots of tea to boil, three pounds of corn to make into tortillas — and that’s just the start! Using both Spanish and English words to tally the party preparations, Grandma Beetle cleverly delays her trip and spends her birthday with a table full of grandchildren and her surprise guest. This spirited tribute to the rich traditions of Mexican culture is the perfect introduction to counting in both English and Spanish. The vivacious illustrations and universal depiction of a family celebration are sure to be adored by young readers everywhere.
Just a Minute is a great story where Grandma Beetle tricks the trickster. In it Morales introduces different concepts of time and the value of slowing life down to enjoy oneself. It is filled with beautiful Día de los Muertos imagery and is highly recommended. Last year Lorraine posted a great review of this book, where she hyperlinks different classroom and teachers’ guides that go along with it. She also hyperlinks the Yuyi Morales website, where Morales tells the story of how Just a Minute came to be. In a video on her website, Morales not only talks about the making of her story, but she shows the process of her illustrations. We hope you love this fun trickster book!
Pablo Remembers: The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead
Written by George Ancona
Published by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books
Age Level: 4-8
From October 31 to November 2, people in Mexico celebrate the festival of el Día de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. This photodocumentary follows Pablo and his family as they prepare to honor the memory of Pablo’s grandmother. Ancona’s “photographs catch the affirmation of life that fills the Mexican festival arising from both Aztec and Christian customs honoring the dead….Joyful.”–Chicago Tribune. “This intriguing book makes an excellent offering during the Halloween season.”–School Library Journal. Also available in a Spanish Language edition, Pablo Recuerda.
Ancona does a great job at describing step-by-step aspects of the Día de los Muertos fiesta. In addition, he gives the reasoning behind each tradition of the holiday in a respectful manner. Looking at how one family celebrates the holiday is a good way for giving insight to the way that a particular culture or community celebrates. The photos make Ancona’s descriptions more comprehensive and personal. Ancona’s book presents Pablo’s family as part of a greater community, and he highlights the family aspect of everyone in the town going to the cemetery together. In addition, this book is great for showing the respectfulness of the holiday in Mexico with no Halloween fusion. The spirits are not described as scary, but human. We highly recommend this book!
A Gift for Abuelita: Celebrating the Day of the Dead/Un regalo para Abuelita: En celebración del Día de los Muertos
Written by Nancy Luenn
Illustrations by Robert Chapman
Published by Rising Moon
Age Level: 5-8
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.
This beautiful story shows the personal nature of Día de los Muertos and what it means to Rosita, the main character. The beautiful pictures and context of the story reveal traditions of Día de los Muertos, including going to the market and the cemetery, as well as preparations made for the fiesta. Everything is written in both English and Spanish, and the translations are fluid. Lorraine wrote a post about this book last October, and it is worth peeking at!
Uncle Monarch and the Day of the Dead
Written by Nancy Luenn
Illustrations by René King Moreno
Published by Boyds Mills Press
Age Level: 7-9
A family celebrates Día de Muertos, a holiday for remembering those who have passed. When the monarch butterflies return to her Mexican countryside, Lupita knows that Día de Muertos, “the Day of the Dead,” is near. She and her favorite uncle watch the butterflies flutter in the trees. When a butterfly lands on Lupita’s hand, her uncle reminds her that she should never hurt a monarch because they are believed to be the souls of the departed. Lupita and her family get ready for the holiday. When the first of November arrives, the family will go to the cemetery to honor the memories of their loved ones. But this year is different—Lupita’s uncle cannot join them. Now, Lupita learns the true meaning of the celebration.
We have so much to share about this book this month! Charla recently wrote a post about the Monarch Butterflies’ migration to southern Mexico and their connection to Día de los Muertos. In her post she highlights a teacher’s guide for teaching about the Monarch Butterfly. Many people believe that the monarchs are the spirits of ancestors visiting for Day of the Dead. Also, Alice reviewed this book last week. Her review gives great detail and insight to Luenn’s book.
The Spirit of Tío Fernando: A Day of the Dead Story/El espíritu de tío Fernando: Una historia del Día de los Muertos
Written by Janice Levy
Illustrations by Morella Fuenmayor
Published by Albert Whitman & Company
Age Level: 5-8
It’s the Day of the Dead and Nando and his mother are going to honor Tío Fernando. Nando, named for Uncle Fernando, listens as his mother tells him that later, at the cemetery, they will meet with Tío Fernando’s spirit.
This bilingual book tells the personal experience of the Day of the Dead from a child’s point of view. It also presents the holiday as a form of healing, since Nando’s uncle died only six months before the Day of the Dead celebrations. It delicately touches on themes of love, loss and tradition, and it shows the ways in which they are all interconnected.
The Festival of Bones/El Festival de las Calaveras: The Little-Bitty Book for the Day of the Dead
Written and illustrated by Luis San Vicente
Translations by John William Byrd and Bobby Byrd
Published by Cinco Punto PressCinco Punto Press
Age Level: 5+
On Mexico’s Day of the Dead, the skeletons jump for sheer joy. And no wonder: they’ve been cooped up the whole year long and now they’re ready to party. Watch the calaveras shake, rattle and roll as they celebrate the biggest event of the graveyard’s social calendar!
Mexico’s Day of the Dead fascinates kids, whether for its joyful celebration or its unusual traditions. With fantastic illustrations and a wild and fanciful poem, San Vicente captures the spirit of this most marvelous holiday. A short and fun essay, directed toward young readers, explains this important Mexican holiday, and the fun things kids can do to join in the festivities.
This is a book that is all about having fun and celebrating. Children will love its upbeat rhythm and fun drawings. Skeletons are represented as fun rather than scary, showing the Day of the Dead as a time of celebration. This book would go great with a sugar skulls project in class. De Colores has a great review of this book, as well.
Day of the Dead
Written by Tony Johnston
Illustrations by Jeanette Winter
Published by Voyager Books Harcourt, Inc.
Age Level: 4-7
Above a small town in Mexico, the sun rises like a great marigold, and one family begins preparations for an annual celebration, El Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Soon they will go out into the night, join their neighbors, and walk to the graveyard to welcome the spirits of their loved ones home again. Framed by decorative borders and peppered with Spanish words, Day of the Dead is a glorious introduction to a fascinating celebration. A note at the end of the book provides factual information about the holiday.
Johnston’s book is about the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. It is told from the children’s point of view, who have trouble waiting to eat the traditionally prepared food and begin the celebrations. The border of each page is lined with different objects that are important representations of Day of the Dead. Neosha posted a review of this book that tells about it in greater detail.
The Dead Family Diaz
Written by P.J. Bracegirdle
Illustrations by Poly Bernatene
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers
Age Level: 6-9
A fresh, funny take on the Day of the Dead that’s packed with kid appeal!
Every skeleton in the Land of the Dead is excited to celebrate el Día de los Muertos with the Living. But not Angelito. His big sister has told him all about their horrifying bulgy eyes and squishy skin. So when Angelito is separated from his family in the Land of the Living, he’s petrified—until he makes a new friend who is just as terrified of THEM as Angelito is. Then his new buddy turns out to be (gulp!) a living boy! Angelito runs as fast as his bony feet can carry him. Fortunately the traditions of the Day of the Dead reunite the two boys, just in time for some holiday fun.
Full of wild, Tim Burton-esque art, this clever tale is sure to become un libro favorito for the Day of the Dead, Halloween season, and beyond.
This book has a fun twist because it tells about the journey to the living from the dead’s point of view. It also teaches about our fears of the unknown and making friends that are different from us. We need not pay attention to stereotypes; when it comes down to it, we are all human. Children will love Bernatene’s colorful pictures of papel picado and celebration. The pictures come alive as you read the story. This book has a Halloween feel to it, while it clearly celebrates the Día de los Muertos. It is a fun fusion.