The Day of the Dead is rapidly becoming a popular holiday in the United States. The following books are great to teach children about the holiday, and range from books that are more informational to those that are more for fun and finally to those that center on children who are dealing with the loss of loved ones.
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Children’s Books for Day of the Dead
A great book to introduce children to this festival is The Day of the Dead/El Dia de Los Muertos. It’s rhyming text covers the basics of the holiday without being too overwhelming for young readers (additional information is included at the book). The artwork itself – which was inspired by the work of well-known Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada – is wonderful, incorporating traditional symbols and capturing the spirit of Day of the Dead.
One of my favorite discoveries was Un barrilete / Barrilete: para el Día de los Muertos / A Kite for the Day of the Dead. It is a beautifully photographed book about a young boy in a village in Guatemala famous for the incredible kites the villagers make every year for Day of the Dead. It is a wonderful book because it tells how Day of the Dead is celebrated outside Mexico and lets children take a peek into the lives of other children as they prepare their incredible kites and get ready for a very special day.
Fun with Calaveras (Skeletons)
Some of these books do not specifically mention Day of the Dead, but they all either exhibit artwork associated with the holiday or are in the spirit of the festival.
The art of paper mache skeletons is celebrated in this ABC book for Day of the Dead. Based on the life and work of a real family of artisans in Mexico, Calavera Abecedario: A Day of the Dead Alphabet Book tells of a family getting ready for Day of the Dead by making their special life-sized paper mache skeletons, which are then featured in an A-Z display of all the different professions an aspiring skeleton might be, whether an Angel or Bruja or a Zapatero!
I love the illustrations and poetry in The Festival of Bones / El festival de las calaveras, a wonderful look at how skeletons celebrate Day of the Dead after being cooped up all year. Also includes an essay at the end about the holiday, including recipes and activities.
Mi Familia Calaca / My Skeleton Family does not actually mention Day of the Dead, though its theme of a skeleton family is an obvious reference. The text itself is quite simple; the real star is the artwork: paper mache skeletons made by a young artist from Oaxaca, Mexico, in the traditional method. (Each figure took one month to construct!) This is a great book to showcase skeleton art from Mexico and how, unlike in the United States, skeletons there are not seen as creepy or scary at all!
A list of Latino children’s books just wouldn’t be complete without including the incomparable Yuyi Morales. Just a Minute! is a fun trickster tale and counting book, in which clever Grandma Beetle outwits Señor Calavera (Mister Skeleton), who has come to take her away. She agrees to go but delays him with Uno (One) having to sweep one house, Dos (Two) having to boil two pots of tea, and so on until Señor Calavera unwittingly helps Grandma Beetle prepare a special surprise that makes him forget all about taking her away! We love reading this book together, as well as the sequel Just In Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book, when Señor Calavera prepares for Grandma Beetle’s party by looking for a very special gift. Learn vocabulary and the Spanish alphabet as he searches for what Grandma Beetle would love the most.
Another fun skeleton book is The Dead Family Diaz, about a dead family preparing to make their annual trip to the Land of the Living during the Day of the Dead festival. But young Angelito is scared about what the living are like. Is it true that they are squishy and have bulging eyes like his sister says? When he gets separated from his family and becomes lost among the living, Angelito must turn to a new friend to help him. A really cute book that showcases many aspects of the Day of the Dead festival and imagines a friendship between two young boys from opposite worlds.
Dance along with the skeletons in Clatter Bash! A Day of the Dead Celebration as they come out of their tombs to celebrate Day of the Dead. They enjoy the offerings left for them and enjoy playing in the cemetery and around the town. The text is simple but lively, to go with the colorful pictures of the skeletons’ fiesta.
Remembering Loved Ones
Ghost Wings is a beautiful book about a girl dealing with the loss of a beloved grandmother. Her father tells her that when you love someone, they never really leave, just like the monarch butterflies that return to the Magic Circle in the forest every autumn. When the butterflies return that fall and the Days of the Dead arrive, she discovers the joy in remembering her grandmother and celebrating her life. Includes information about Day of the Dead and the monarch butterflies as well as a guide to using the book to discuss feelings and memories with children.
The image of butterflies can also be seen in Uncle Monarch and the Day of the Dead. Each year when the monarch butterflies return, Lupita knows that Day of the Dead will soon be here. But this year’s celebration will be different for Lupita, whose favorite uncle has just passed away. It was he who taught her not to harm the butterflies, since they are believed to be the souls of the departed. Though the rituals of Day of the Dead comfort Lupita, it is not until she sees a lone butterfly flying above her uncle’s grave that the gloom begins to lift from her heart.
Beto and The Bone Dance is also about a child remembering his grandmother during the Day of the Dead, though it is a bit less melancholy than other of the books listed here. Beto wants to make something special for his Grandmother, who has recently died, but others have already made pan de muertos and Grandmother’s favorite drinks and foods. Luckily, Beto receives help from someone very special to add to the altar what Grandmother loved of all.
Another book about a child dealing with loss is Felipa and the Day of the Dead. It is from a German author, who was moved by the Day of the Dead celebrations she witnessed when studying art in Mexico. Years later she traveled to Bolivia and studied their Todos Santos traditions, on which she based this beautiful book. When Felipa’s grandmother dies, Felipa asks all the animals and searches through the mountains to find her grandmother’s soul. Her father tells her that the souls of the dead live in another world, but they come to visit every year in November. When the day finally arrives, Felipa helps with the preparations and visits the cemetery to remember her grandmother and visit with her there. She is still sad but hopeful that each year she will have this special day to visit with her grandmother.
A beautifully done book about loss is Maria Molina and the Days of the Dead. Though Maria’s family does not have much money, they find special ways to celebrate Day of the Dead, which she describes as being like a family reunion. For Maria, the heart of the festival is spent in the graveyard, remembering loved ones who have died. (Note: One of those that Maria has lost is her infant brother, Pablo). When Maria moves with her family to the United States, she wonders how they will continue to honor the dead in their new home, yet she discovers that the spirit of Day of the Dead can be continued even far away from Mexico.
When Rosita’s grandmother dies, Rosita is inconsolable, until her grandfather tells her that she can show her grandmother how much she misses her by making her a gift for Day of the Dead. Gift For Abuelita / Un regalo para Abuelita really shows the love that infuses all of the rituals of the Day of the Dead, and what a comfort it can be to loved ones.
This post is part of the Day of the Dead series on Multicultural Kid Blogs. Follow along all month as we share ideas for teaching children about this festival!