Jean O'Shea's Reviews > Festival of the Bones / El Festival de las Calaveras

Festival of the Bones / El Festival de las Calaveras by Luis San Vicente
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's review
Nov 30, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: lis565

This book describes the Day of the Dead, or el Dia de los Muertos, a holiday celebrated in Mexico from October 31 to November 2. It is written in two parts: poetry and non-fiction essay. The works of Mexico City artist Luis San Vicente have been exhibited in Mexico, Venezuela, Europe, and the United States. He won UNESCO’s 11th (1998) prestigious NOMA Encouragement Concours Prize for Illustration, and UNESCO honored his work (1997, 1998, and 1999) in their prestigious Youth and Children’s Catalog of Illustrations.

The author invites children join the celebration as they watch the skeletons rock, rattle, and roll those long old bones as they get ready for the biggest event of their social calendar. Directed toward emerging readers, a short essay, filled with activities, explains this important Mexican holiday. It is billed as an early reader. I find the poetry fits this description easily, rhythmic and repetitive. The essay, on the other hand, might need an adult to build context for the narrative.

Interest Level:

From Publishers Weekly – Originally published in Mexico, this bilingual primer on the Day of the Dead may be best suited to those already familiar with the festival. For the uninitiated, an afterword explains that Mexicans celebrate el d!a de los muertes from October 31 to November 2. Feasts, music and visits to gravesites help the living honor the dead, who are believed by many to return for the festivities. Vicente, a respected Mexico City artist, creates charming skeletal characters; their playfulness accentuates the holiday's merriment. Rendered in a style reminiscent of scratchboard illustrations, his bony subjects dance in top hats and ride bicycles amid a fetchingly surreal world. For "Pascual's skeleton sings a song/ Without any pain or dread/ Although half a leg is really gone/ Still a flower sits upon his head," he pictures the skeletal fellow balanced on one leg atop a crescent moon and a wide-eyed owl as his audience. But for norte$os, the macabre content may not translate well. The text abruptly begins with a deceased guitarist crooning, "The skeletons are going along the road to the graveyard.... These are the dead. How happy they are." They may be further confused by a shifting narrative voice and non sequitur conclusion. But for those immersed in Mexican culture, this neatly designed square volume offers a fresh look at a familiar subject. Ideas on how to honor the dead and recipes for the holiday feast are included. Ages 4-10. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Ann Welton, Grant Center for the Expressive Arts, Tacoma, WA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. – Criticas – PreS-Gr 3-Oodles of dancing skeletons have returned to celebrate the Dia de los muertos, or the Day of the Dead. They come and they go, all of them happy and intending to have a good time. The simple, rhythmic text (definitely catchier in Spanish than in English) mimics the meter of a dance, and San Vicente's b&w artwork with touches of warm color look slightly shivery. The book concludes with information on the Day of the Dead, along with instructions for making "pan de muertos" (the special bread made on the Day of the Dead), "calaveras de azucar" ("sugar skulls"), "papel picado" ("paper cut-outs"), and an altar. This book will be a hot pick for library or home reading around that holiday and Halloween.

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