Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras, by Duncan Tonatiuh (ages 9-12)

Our students look forward each year to the celebration of Día de los Muertos at Emerson. Parents create an ofrenda in the library, our 5th graders decorate sugar skulls, and everyone gets to taste pan de muerto. I can't wait to share Duncan Tonatiuh's outstanding new picture book biography Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras.
Funny Bones:
Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams, 2015
Your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Tonatiuh blends his signature style artwork with Posada's calaveras to help young readers understand both Posada's printmaking process and also his political messages in behind these iconic images.

My students will certainly recognize La Catrina, but few will be know about Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada (called Don Lupe Posada), who created this and many other calaveras, skeletons prominent in Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. As a young man, Posada learned the printmaking techniques of lithography, engraving and etching. Students will be very interested to learn about these processes and see how he used them to create his images.
"Whether he made an etching, a lithograph, or an engraving, he had to draw the image in reverse--the opposite of the way he wanted the finished image to appear."
Tonatiuh also helps students think about the Don Lupe's ideas, the things he might have wanted his audience to think about when they saw his drawings. At school, we have talked about an author's message but we talk less often about an artist's message. Tonatiuh introduces this in a thoughtful way that invites students into thinking this way--without being heavy-handed.

For several spreads, Tonatiuh reproduces some of Posada's classic images, making them look like they are old-fashioned broadsides. Tonaituh invites students' own questioning by sharing his own questions.
"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?"
Tonatiuh's illustrations are influenced by pre-Columbian Mixtec figures, especially those from codices. I think it's fascinating how he's combining powerful visual images from two different Mexican traditions. This is a must-have book for all school libraries, one that 3rd through 5th graders will especially like reading and discussing.

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Please find other terrific nonfiction picture books to share at the weekly Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday round-up hosted by KidLitFrenzy.

Illustrations ©2015 Duncan Tonatiuh. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Abrams. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. Great timing for the review. I know about this book, & need to get it to read, sounds fascinating. I love seeing and hearing about that last page you showed.

  2. I read this one this week, too! Duncan does a great job writing about his topics and I love the illustrations even more in this text!

  3. A very timely choice. I really enjoy this one. I have to remember that I loaned it out so that I don't forget who has it.

  4. This is probably one of my fave nfpb's this year and it's one of NYT's Best Illustrated picture books.