July 24 – National Cousins Day

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate cousins—those family members who are close in age and in our hearts. Often getting together with family means getting to play with cousins who can become best friends. As we grow up and move on to other cities for school or jobs, it’s easy to lose touch. If you live far away from family, take the opportunity today to text, email, or call a special cousin and catch up. If you live close, why not plan a get together with your cousins or for your kids and their cousins?

Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin

By Duncan Tonatiuh

 

Charlie runs through the house shouting with excitement. He’s gotten a letter from his cousin Carlitos who lives in Mexico. They’ve never met, but Charlie would like to. In his letter Carlitos tells Charlie that he lives on a farm where they grow maize. He has a burro, pollos, and a gallo that crows and crows. Charlie sits right down and writes a letter in return.

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Copyright Duncan Tonatiuh, 2010. Courtesy of duncantonatiuh.com.

He tells Carlitos that he lives in a city. From his window he can see a bridge and skyscrapers. He writes: “Skyscrapers are buildings so tall they tickle the clouds. At night all the lights from the city look like stars from the sky.” To get to school, Carlitos says, he rides his bicicleta. Perros bark and run after him as he passes. Charlie goes to school on the subway that is like a “long metal snake” underground.

At recess Carlitos and his friends play fútbol. Charlie would call it soccer. Carlitos likes when another player passes him the ball and he kicks it into the net for a gol. Charlie likes scoring too. He plays basketball with his friends during recess. When he gets the ball he dunks it through the net for two points.

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Copyright Duncan Tonatiuh, 2010. Courtesy of duncantonatiuh.com.

After school Carlitos helps his mama cook cheese quesadillas. Charlie grabs a slice of pizza on his way home from school. When Carlitos finishes his homework, he goes outside to play. He likes to shoot canicas and watch them roll, and he’s good at spinning the trompo. But his favorite thing to do is fly his papalote and watch its tail flutter as it soars into the sky. In the afternoon, Charlie says, he plays with his friends outside on the stoop. They jump rope and play hopscotch then they go inside to play video games. Sometimes it gets so hot that Carlitos and his friends go down to the río to go swimming. Charlie and his friends cool off in the spray of the fire hydrant when the firefighters open it for them.

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Copyright Duncan Tonatiuh, 2010. Courtesy of duncantonatiuh.com.

Carlitos spends the weekends at the mercado selling the maize and prickly fruit, tunas, that his family grows on their farm. They also buy food they will need for the next week from other vendors. Weekends are market days for Charlie, too. He goes to the grocery store with his mom and checks off the items on their list as they put them in the cart.

Sometimes there are fiestas in town, Carlitos tells Charlie. The parties last for two or three days. “At night there are cohetas that light up the sky and mariachis who play and play.” Charlie replies that there are special celebrations in his city too where he watches parades with marching bands and people in costumes. Carlitos wishes Charlie could see the churros, cowboys who ride their caballos and twirl their reatas. Charlie thinks Carlitos would be amazed at the break-dancers in his neighborhood who can flip and spin on their heads.

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Copyright Duncan Tonatiuh, 2010. Courtesy of duncantonatiuh.com.

In Mexico, Carlitos writes, there are so many traditions. On Dia de los Muertes families honor those who have passed away, and in December there are parties called Posados with piñatas full of sweets and fruit. Charlie writes that in America we have traditions too. Two of his favorites are Thanksgiving, when he gets to eat turkey, and Halloween, when he dresses up in a costume and goes trick-or-treating for candy.

He’d like to write more, Charlie says, but his mom is calling for him to brush his teeth and get ready for bed. It seems Carlitos ended his letter on the same note. And as each boy pulls up the covers, they have the same idea: “My primo should come visit me!”

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Copyright Duncan Tonatiuh, 2010. Courtesy of duncantonatiuh.com.

Duncan Tonatiuh’s charming tribute to family and cultural similarities told through two letters written by cousins engages young readers on many levels. Filled with Spanish vocabulary, Carlitos’s letter introduces children to Spanish words for familiar things as well as to new ideas. Spanish-speaking readers find the same experience through Charlie’s letter to Carlitos. By juxtaposing similar daily and special events on each page or two-page spread, Tonatiuh emphasizes the fact that people are the same wherever they live.

Tonatiuh’s now well-known folk-art illustrations let kids travel to sites in Mexico and America as they get to know Charlie and Carlitos. Striking and vividly detailed images on each page invite kids to compare the lives of the two cousins and point out the similarities and differences.

Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin is an engaging multicultural book for home and school libraries. The book is a perfect way to introduce Spanish words and Mexican culture to kids learning about their world.

Ages 5 – 8

Harry N. Abrams, 2010 | ISBN 978-0810938724

Discover more about Duncan Tonatiuh, his books, and his artwork on his website!

National Cousins Day Activity

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Cousins Connect! Maze

 

Can you help the cousins get together to play in this printable Cousins Connect! Maze? Then you can color the page! Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

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