I just love the fall holidays. From Rosh Hashana to Diwali to Halloween, there are so many opportunities to celebrate. We've been reading a bit about the Mexican holiday known as the Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos), which takes place from October 31st through November 2nd, with today, November 1st, being the important day for many. In Mexico, the U.S., and other countries, people visit the cemetery on November 1st. Mary Dodson Wade's informative beginning reader explains it nicely, "El Día de los Muertos is for families. It is a day to remember the people they have loved."
We won't be visiting any cemeteries (although Junior would like to), but in addition to buying some pan de muerto (a special bread) at a local Mexican bakery, we plan to read George Ancona’s Pablo Remembers: The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead; it's my favorite of the Day of the Dead books for children. (The Wade reader rates a close second.) Ancona, a photojournalist and popular children’s author, documents one Mexican family’s preparations and holiday festivities.
The book centers on Pablo, who looks to be about ten or eleven. The story begins on October 31st, All Hallows Eve. Ancona writes,
The village church bells are ringing and the rooster is crowing. Pablo knows it is time to get up. The first thing he sees when he opens his eyes is the picture of Abuelita, his grandmother. The smiling photograph on his wall, made when she was a young mother, is the only one that was ever taken of her. Pablito remembers her with white hair and wrinkled hands—but the very same smile. Abuelita died two years ago, and he misses her.
Ancona takes us through shopping at the Oaxaca market, making the traditional home altars and ofrendas (all terms are succinctly explained), cooking tamales de mole, and visiting the cemetery. Vibrant photographs emphasize the family’s togetherness and their warm memories of those who have gone on before them. An author’s note at the end explains the historical origins of the holiday.
Besides the inviting pictures, which burst with color, what I like about Pablo Remembers is the specificity of the writing. Because the book is about one family and their observances, it isn’t burdened with stilted sentences like “They are celebrating death! Does that sound strange to you? It is not strange to the Mexican people...” as I read in another children’s book about this holiday. Too abstract for its intended audience. Ancona conveys the same ideas in a concrete way that children can understand.
Ancona's book, first published in 1993, was obviously written in better times for Oaxaca. The International Herald Tribune runs an AP feature today about how the recent riots and killings have affected the Día celebration. I hope that Pablo and his family are all right.