With Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, only a couple of weeks away, we’ve put together a list of our five favorite Día de los Muertos picture books. Whether your child is already familiar with the tradition, or you are looking for something to introduce it to him or her, our list is sure to please.
Rosita y Conchita by Erich Haeger and Eric Gonzalez. Muertoons, 2010.
Our favorite book to celebrate the holiday, the story follows twin sisters who are trying to find a way to get together once again. Part of the book describes how Conchita is carefully creating an altar to remember her dearly departed twin, Rosita. The other part tells Rosita’s story as she wanders through the otherworld looking for clues that will lead her to her sister one more time. This lovely little book is not sad or scary. Instead, it treats death in the same manner that the holiday itself does – with humor and love – so that children will enjoy the story line. The best part of the book, I thought, was how the authors describe the ofrendas in such a way so that the children reading the book can understand the meaning behind each one. Written in rhyming verse with full text in both English and Spanish. Ages 4 to 8. Hardback.
Calavera Abecedario: A Day of the Dead Alphabet Book by Jeanette Winter. Sandpiper, 2006.
This fantastic little book is based on the true story of a Mexican family of artistas. Don Pedro spends the year making cartonería (papier-mâché objects) like skeletons for the fiesta of el Día de los Muertos. This is a family business involving everyone from his sons and grandsons to the cat! Each one helps him create the life-size esqueletos using bamboo, papier-mâché, and paint. The result is an imaginative and vibrant parade of skeletons to celebrate the holiday. The story line is written primarily in English with Spanish words embedded throughout. However, the actual abecedario is in Spanish, and the illustration accompanying each letter depicts the associated word. Ages 4 to 8. Paperback.
Just a Minute!: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book and Just In Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book by Yuyi Morales. Chronicle Books, 2003; Roaring Brook Press, 2008.
This is a fabulous pair of books, beautifully written and illustrated. Just a Minute! centers around the visit of Señor Calavera, who has arrived at Grandma Beetle’s house to take her with him. Of course, Grandma Beetle is a clever little abuelita, who – amidst promises to be ready soon – manages to delay Señor Calavera with all her important preparations for her own birthday party. For example, there is UNA casa to sweep, dos pots of tea to boil, tres stacks of tortillas…you get the idea. Winner of the 2004 Pura Belpre Medal for Illustration. Written in English with embedded Spanish words. Ages 4 and up. Hardback.
In the sequel, Just in Case, Señor Calavera is once again off to meet Grandma Beetle for her birthday. Worried about what type of gift to take, he misunderstands the advice of Zelmiro the Ghost and ends up getting her one gift for every letter of the alphabet. Winner of the 2009 Pura Belpre Medal for Illustration and a Pura Belpre Honor Book for Narrative. Written in English with embedded Spanish words. Ages 4 and up. Hardback.
The Dead Family Diaz by P.J. Bracegirdle and Poly Bernatene. Dial, 2012.
The most recently released title on our list, The Dead Family Diaz is the story of two young boys – one living, the other not! – who overcome their fears to find friendship on the Day of the Dead. In the beginning, young readers will be fascinated by Angelito, who is nervous about traveling to the Land of the Living with his family. Once there, he becomes separated from his parents and sister, only to unknowingly befriend a living boy named Pablo. The vibrant illustrations are rich with Day of the Dead detail. Written in English. Ages 4 and up. Hardback.
Monica Olivera Hazelton, NBC Latino contributor and the founder and publisher of MommyMaestra.com, a site for Latino families that homeschool, as well as families with children in a traditional school setting who want to take a more active role in their children’s education. She is the 2011 winner of the “Best Latina Education Blogger” award by LATISM.