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Celebrating The Day of The Dead in Children’s Fiction

By Maisie Jane Garvin, Juliette Tulloch, Beccy Fish and Giulia Caparrelli

Unfortunately for us older readers the beautifully intricate detail in the Day of The Dead covers are displayed more commonly on children’s books, often exploring the traditions behind the celebration. For those of us that want to delve into the world of the Day of the Dead, these books could be the perfect opportunity to learn more about this Mexican tradition. On 2 November, people gather to honour passed family members and encourage their lost loved ones to reunite with them for this one day, to rejoice in the celebrations and dancing.

The first thing that draws attention to the cover of Dia de Los Muertos: Celebrate the World by Hannah Eliot is that the illustrator is mentioned – common in children’s books, but not seen as much in the adult genre. Jorge Gutierrez is a Mexican animator and painter and seems the perfect fit to illustrate this book. Published in 2018, this book teaches how El Dia de los Muertos is the circle of life and honours the ancestors who have passed. This cover shows that despite the sometimes scary connotations associated with skeletons and the dead, the celebration is far from it. The smiling children who are looking up to the traditionally dressed skeleton in his carro and sombrero encourage readers to celebrate their culture and enjoy the fun. A black background allows bright and vibrant colours to pop against it, something that will happen during the celebration itself, lasting long into the night. The cover encompasses the liveliness of El Dia de Los Muertos and encourages children to embrace and be proud of their heritage.

A beautiful cover for a beautiful story of Gustavo, the Shy Ghost. He is wonderful in his abilities to walk through walls and make objects fly; however, he struggles to befriend the other monsters around him, discovering they simply cannot see him. But with the countdown to El Dia De Los Muertos, how will he gain their attention? The gorgeous illustrations appeal to the young target audience; with bright pinks, contrasting oranges and cute ghosts, it would be difficult for any child to refuse reading Gustavo’s story. Small elements of the day are also incorporated into the cover such as multiple skulls, a common decoration, as well as banners and streamers that symbolise the celebration. The musical touches like the music notes and record player are also a reminder of the tradition to dance and party with friends and family. Author and illustrator Flavia Z. Drago’s love for working with colour, texture and shape is evident here throughout the heart-warming tale and the cover. The colourful boldness of the art style helps to teach children that the festival, and the ghosts honoured within it are nothing to fear. Instead, they are friends who should be celebrated.

Written by Hayley Nystrom and published by Willow Moon Publishing in September 2020, The Harvest Sprites is a beautifully illustrated book that uncovers the festivals of Autumn. This is the fourth instalment of the “Magic of the Seasons” series that brings fantasy and culture together to educate young children, with a recommended reading age of babies to 9 years old. Alexandra Bulankina’s soft yet vibrant illustrations depict the various sprites along with the rhyming poetry. The sprites include Crunch (leaves), Patches (Pumpkins), Cranberry (Thanksgiving), Diya (Diwali) and Marigold (Dia de Los Muertos). Alexandra has used the traditional calavera makeup on Marigold along with the flowers in her hair. The Mexican cempasúchil is the traditional flower used to honour the dead and it is believed to attract souls of the dead to the offerings, while its scent can guide them to their loved ones' homes.

For fans of Pixar’s Coco and Tim Burton’s illustrations, The Dead Family Diaz is a dazzling celebration of the Day of The Dead born out of author P.J. Bracegirdle’s and illustrator Poly Bernatene’s imagination. Unlike typical retellings of this festival, this book reverses the perspective and follows the protagonist, a young skeleton called Angelito, in his first encounters with living beings, by whom he is deadly frightened. The cover also reverses the narrative by creating a divide between the skeletons and the living, between a “normal” family and an “odd” boy. The colours of the illustrations, the clothes worn by the Diaz family and decorations are representative of this flamboyant Mexican tradition. The image of a family gathering is also a key element of this celebration, one that can remind people of the joy of being together and lessen the gap between life and death.


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