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).

 

Happy Halloween!

Books in the Scientist in the Field series look and feel like a picture book (albeit hefty ones at 80 pages). They get shelved with nonfiction picture books. But inside, they’re middle grade material, complete with chapters.

They’re also totally engaging. Every chapter in this book features a different scientist working on some aspect of bat conservation. The photos are wonderful and the text accessible. It’s not a read aloud, but by the time I was finished, I was starting to plan how to build a bat house for my backyard.

And if you enjoy The Bat Scientists, be sure to check out The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats: A Scientific Mystery,  by Sandra Markle, another middle grade read masquerading as a picture book. Its gripping true story will have you cheering for the bats around you.

The Bat Scientists by Mary Kay Carson, photos by Tom Uhlman. Houghton Mifflin, 2013.