This nonfiction picture book is a festive introduction to the Mexican and Latin American holiday of Dia de los Muertos.
Dia de los Muertos
by Roseanne Greenfield Thong; pictures by Carles Ballesteros
Albert Whitman & Company, Chicago, 2015
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 23 x 29 cm
Picture book, nonfiction, diversity
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 4.7
4 out of 5 stars
It is important to respect the cultures and traditions of people in other parts of the world, and reading books that present accurate information in a fun and entertaining way is an excellent way to educate children. Many people who are not part of the Latin American or Mexican culture mistakenly believe that Dia de los Muertos is associated with the American holiday of Halloween. Dia de los Muertos by Roseanne Thong and Carles Ballesteros make this distinct holiday come to life so readers understand what makes it special.
Thong has used rhyming text, with interspersed Spanish words, to narrate the story of how one town celebrates Dia de los Muertos. The Spanish words are left to stand on their own; they are not defined in the narrative text. This works well in the story because in most cases the words are either recognizable because of their resemblance to the corresponding English word, such as “celebraciones,” or the illustrations provide visual clues to the word’s meaning.
The illustrations are colorful and festive, matching the tone of the text and the holiday itself. In the additional information in the back of the book, Thong notes that “the emphasis of this day is on the joy of life rather than the sadness of death.” The feeling of the holiday is conveyed well by the rhyming text and festive illustrations. Skulls are part of the holiday, and the illustrations are accurate, but in no way scary, in order to be appropriate to young readers.
Two pages of more detailed information about Dia de los Muertos is included in the back of the book, as well as a glossary to define the Spanish words. There are no pronunciation guides, which is unfortunate, although Google Translate or other online resources can fill that need.
The flow of the rhyming text, paired with engaging illustrations, would make this book an excellent read-aloud for Nov. 1 or 2, the dates that the holiday is celebrated. Teachers or librarians could compare this Mexican/Latin American holiday to Halloween to help children recognize the differences.
Latinxs in Kid Lit has a list of other books that explore the holiday’s beliefs and traditions: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2014/10/31/scholastic-highlights-books-that-celebrate-the-day-of-the-dead-el-dia-de-los-muertos/
The Program of Latino History and Culture at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History has created a guide to the holiday that is appropriate for teachers or librarians. The history and beliefs are covered, and lesson ideas and activities are included. http://latino.si.edu/dayofthedead/DODManual.pdf
National Geographic has general information about Dia de los Muertos, including stunning illustrations, suggested questions to pose to students, and quick facts.
For older students: http://nationalgeographic.org/media/dia-de-los-muertos/
For younger students: http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/celebrations/day-of-the-dead/