Cover of book shows portrat of Jose Guadalupe Posada with four of his funy illustrations of skeletons--one is playing the guitar, one wears a fancy hat, one rides a bicycle, and one is dressed as a banditFor Thanksgiving there are picture books about Sarah Josepha Hale, and for Veteran’s Day, there’s a picture book about Arlington Cemetery. But how do you satisfy your yen for nonfiction on Halloween?

Duncan Tonatiuh swoops to the rescue with his new biography. He takes us to nineteenth century Mexico and introduces us to Lupe Posada, an enterprising and creative printer who embraces the folk tradition of printing and selling humorous broadsides about death for Day of the Dead celebrations. But Posada’s fertile imagination and skilled etchings slowly create a new iconography for Day of the Dead. Tonatiuh intersperses his own distinctive, flat drawings with copies of Posada’s equally distinctive drawings. He invites us to consider the messages Posada may have hidden under the humor.

I grow weak in the knees when a picture book biography convinces me that someone I’d never heard of before is totally worthy of an entire book. I find myself scrambling in the back matter to learn everything I can. Here, in Tonatiuh’s back matter, I found a rare photo of Posada and learned some intriguing things about his collaborator. I also learned, to my surprise, that Posada had a strong direct influence on the great muralists Orozco and Rivera. The back matter is packed with information about Day of the Dead celebrations, too, but you don’t need independent knowledge of them to enjoy the book. In fact, the book will teach you a lot about them while you think you’re learning about Posada!

This nonfiction book would pair beautifully with Yuyi Morales’ fictional picture book Just a Minute, with its canny grandmother tricking Death.

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras, by Duncan Tonatiuh. (Abrams: 2015).


TromboneThis brassy, bold autobiography is a book about New Orleans, about music, and about Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty. The beginning spreads show how music was part of Andrews’ everyday life at home and on the streets of New Orleans. The next spreads show the author trying to make music–at first without even an instrument in hand, “We were making music, and that’s all that mattered”–we see him getting a chance as a tiny child to play with jazz great Bo Didley, and finally, we see him forming his own band. Andrews organizes his story around the repeated refrain of “Where y’at?”

The book is an exuberant tribute to the power of music to enthrall. It will set your toes tapping and send you out to listen to a Trombone Shorty CD.

Trombone Shorty, by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier. Abrams: 2015.













Duncan Tonatiuh’s distinctive artwork illustrates this story of a family that brought a lawsuit to desegregate schools. The story is long–2321 words!–but Tonatiuh makes sure everything is told from young Sylvia’s point of view.

The dialogue in the book keeps things lively, and I was delighted that the author included a note about that dialogue in the back matter, He writes:

The dialogue in the trial scene comes directly from court transcripts. i shortened and edited it for clarity and pacing. The dialogue in the rest of the book is inspired by conversations i had with Sylvia Mendez in October 2012 and April 2013.

The narrative voice shifts between Spanish and English. It’s clear and plain-spoken, with few poetic devices, as if the right outcome of this case is so obvious that it doesn’t need rhetorical flourishes.

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams: 2014.


Who was the first person to fly an airplane? This book profiles Alberto Santos-Dumont, the Brazilian contender. It’s a charming story of sophisticated Parisian life in 1903, despite clunky invented dialogue and an awkward shift in point of view in the middle of the book.

Louis Blériot, the hero of Alice and Martin Provensen’s Caldecott winner The Glorious Flight, appears here in a less-than-glorious light. Reading the two books together could lead to a fascinating discussion about the different perspectives writers bring to their subjects. Which also makes it a great Common Core pairing for fourth graders, who are supposed to integrate information from two texts on the same topic.

Don’t miss Griffith’s fantastic author’s note at the end. It has it all-how she got interested in the story, more details about events in the story, what happened next, and a discussion of Santos-Dumont’s legacy in the worlds of flight and fashion.

The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont by Victoria Griffiths. Abrams: 2011.