November 1 – Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

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About the Holiday

Originating in Mexico, but celebrated throughout Latin America, Dia de los Muertos commemorates the lives of deceased loved ones with music, food, parties, and activities the person enjoyed in life. Dia de los Muertos revolves around the belief that death is just a natural part of the life cycle, and the dead are awakened from their eternal rest to once more join their community for this special day.

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras

By Duncan Tonatiuh

 

José Guadalupe Posada was born in 1852 in the Mexican city of Aguascalientes. His older brother, a teacher, taught Lupe how to read and write, and seeing how well he drew, helped him enroll in art classes. When Lupe was 18, he went to work in a print shop where he learned lithography and engraving. During working hours Lupe created labels, invitations, flyers, and other documents.

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Copyright Duncan Tonatiuh, courtesy of abramsbooks.com

After work, he gathered with other artists and talked about the government. They didn’t like how their government officials ran things. Lupe’s boss, Don Trinidad Pedroza, at the print shop also published a newspaper, and he invited Lupe to create editorial drawings to be included in the paper. Lupe’s drawings were humorous, but also highlighted the officials’ bad traits. After the elections some of these politicians remained in power and were angry with Lupe and his boss. Lupe and Don Trinidad decided to move to the city of León.

In León Lupe opened his own print shop, he got married, and had a son. He became well known not only for his printing work but also for book and pamphlet illustrations. People began to call him Don Lupe as a sign of respect. “But in 1888 a terrible flood destroyed a large part of the city, including Don Lupe’s shop.” He and his family moved to Mexico City, where in time he was able to open another print shop.

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Copyright Duncan Tonatiuh, courtesy of abramsbooks.com

He worked with Antonio Vanegas, a writer, who published his stories on large sheets of paper called ‘broadsides.’ “The tales were about a wide range of topics, including scary creatures, fires, miracles, violent crimes, heroes, bandits, cockfights, and bullfights.” Don Lupe drew illustrations for many of these stories. Even people who couldn’t read began buying the broadsides because they were fascinated by Don Lupe’s art.

Every November first and second, during the Dia de Muertos celebrations venders sold special “pan de muerto (bread), cempasúchil (marigold flowers), alfeñiques (sugar skulls), and papel picado (paper cutouts). People bought these and other items to decorate the ofrendas (offerings) they made for their loved ones who had died.” Don Antonio and other editors published “literary Calaveras, which were “short rhyming poems that featured a skeleton and made jokes about him or her. People thought they were very funny. Soon Don Lupe began drawing illustrations for these poems.

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Copyright Duncan Tonatiuh, courtesy of abramsbooks.com

Over time Don Lupe began using the technique of etching, and his illustrations grew more complex. In his calaveras drawings Don Lupe interpreted and commented on what he saw not only on Dia de Muertos, but every day. For example, he watched families gather at loved ones’ graves with food, stories, and music then “drew skeletons dancing and partying. Was he saying that…El Dia de Muertos is not only a celebration of death but also a celebration of life? A day when the dead become alive?”

In another drawing a skeleton wears a large hat covered with lace, feathers, and flowers. This illustration accompanied a poem about a woman who wore expensive clothes and thought she was better than others and ignored them when they needed help. “Was Don Lupe saying that…no matter how fancy your clothes are on the outside, on the inside we are all the same? That we are all calaveras?

Don Lupe also commented on the ever increasing hustle and bustle of society, the Mexican Revolution of 1910, revolutionary leaders and government officials, and just common people and events. Perhaps the main idea Don Lupe was trying to communicate was that “calaveras are all around us. That we are all calaveras, whether we are rich or poor, famous or not.”

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Copyright Duncan Tonatiuh, courtesy of abramsbooks.com

While many people loved and looked forward to Don Lupe’s artwork, they did not know the artist who drew them. It wasn’t until many years after his death in 1913 that “historians and artists such as Jean Charlot and Diego Rivera began to wonder who had drawn such wonderful images.” Today, we know Don Lupe by his last name—Posada—which is how he signed his work, and he and his work is still beloved around the world.

An extensive Author’s Note about El Dia de Muertos and Posada’s influence on other artists. A glossary, bibliography, art credits, and places where Posada’s work is displayed follow the text.

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Copyright Duncan Tonatiuh, courtesy of abramsbooks.com

In Funny Bones Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras, Duncan Tonatiuh accomplishes many things. First, his book is a fascinating look at the life of the man who entertained and enlightened the world with his distinctive talent and ideas. Tonatiuh’s straightforward storytelling reveals the personal and historical events that influenced Posada from childhood through adulthood, clearly explaining and highlighting each concept for his young audience. Second, Tonatiuh provides readers with brief primers on the printing processes of lithography, engraving, and etching with step-by-step descriptions of these interesting art forms.

Third, his own vibrant and expressive stylized illustrations both contrast with and complement the depictions of Posada’s life and his calaveras drawings. On nearly every two-page spread readers experience this biography through Tonatiuh’s portrayals of Don Lupe, the townspeople, and others as well as through Posada’s actual broadsides and editorial drawings. The juxtapositions allow children to fully appreciate the meaning and humor behind these famous drawings that are still so popular and resonant today.

Ages 6 – 10

Harry N. Abrams, 2015 | ISBN 978-1419716478

View a gallery of Duncan Tonatiuh‘s artwork for children and adults on his website!

Dia de los Muertas (Day of the Dead) Activity

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Calaveras Coloring Page

 

With their intricate designs and vibrant hues, calaveras are a joy to color. Grab your entire set of markers, pencils, or crayons and design a masterpiece with this printable Calaveras Coloring Page.

Picture Book Review

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