Oct 10, 2015

Seasonal Stories: FUNNY BONES by Duncan Tonatiuh

Judging from displays in commercial locations and from pop-up pumpkin-shaped sales outlets in vacant parking lots, the Halloween season begins in mid-August and ends with half-price sales on November first. 
Abrams Books for young Readers, 2015
That is, of course, if you observe typical American traditions. 
If, however, you participate in Mexican traditions, November first and second are the important days on the calendar. That's when el Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) recognizes and remembers those who have passed away. Respect and honor are shown for their lives, but it is also a time to celebrate those lives and to recognize that death is the natural end to life, the ending that awaits us all. A party atmosphere prevails.

Instead of trick-or-treating the occasion is marked by creating memory offerings for loved ones, decorated with marigolds. Participants enjoy candy skulls, special bread, and paper cut-outs in the shape of skeletons and skulls. The skeletons have come to be called POSADAS, and they are usually portrayed in a wide variety of comic situations.

POSADA is actually the name of the man who popularized the current versions of the skeletons. FUNNY BONES: Posada and His Day of the Dead CALAVERAS, by Duncan Tonatiuh, reveals his story. The youngest of six children born to a baker, Jose Guadelupe Posada (Lupe) was soon recognized for his remarkable artistic talent. it led him to a lifelong career in various printing businesses, including lithography, engraving, and etching. In the course of a long life with many ups and downs, his images of CALAVERAS became famous for their ability to amuse, provoke political discussions, make social commentary, suggest life lessons, and entertain. He simply signed each one "Posada", the name commonly used now. Although widely respected and successful throughout his life, he was not recognized for his artistic talent and contributions until long after his death, but his works now hang in museums.
 I'm a fan of Tonatiuh's books, not only for their distinctive art style and page designs, but for his ability to enrich the text and content of his work. In nonfiction like this and SEPARATE IS NEVER EQUAL, or DIEGO RIVERA: HIS WORLD AND OURS, the iconography of the borders, the background patterns and minute details on secondary objects all suggest elements of the research and life stories told in the text. The back matter in these books provide sources and access to further investigation, which the books often inspire. 

His traditional-style tale, PANCHO RABBIT and the COYOTE accomplishes the remarkable  feat of using a seemingly simple child's story to explore the harsh realities of the desperation of children escaping unlivable circumstances and their victimization by those who exploit their tragic lives. In many ways Tonatiuh's work mirrors that of Lupe Posada, in that his blending of serious or somber elements with humor, story and traditional icons allows readers to engage wholeheartedly, then reflect later on other possible meanings.
For other books involving Day of the Dead celebrations and traditions, check this previous post featuring a poignant story that blends fiction with information about the migrations of monarch butterflies, GHOST WINGS by Barbara Joosse.

These are all excellent examples of picture books that offer something for readers at any age, including middle grade and beyond. If you're looking for some ghost stories to share this season, recommendations (and a giveaway until OCT. 14, 2015) are featured on my author website under the NEWS tab, here.

So, there's something for everyone here, and that leaves no excuses for not making reading a centerpiece in your seasonal celebrations.

Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.