Cover of book shows Esquivel floating above piano keyboards.“Rinty-Tin-Tin!”




This joyous picture book biography of quirky composer Esquivel rejoices in the weird sounds he incorporated into his music. It tells the story of his childhood in Mexico, his move to the United States, and his experiments with using new sounds in new ways in his music.

The book is full of delightful onomatopoeia. Sometimes the sound words appear within the illustrations. Esquivel surrounded by onomatopoeia.But onomatopoeia also shows up in the text itself:

When Juan Garcia Esquivel was a small boy he lived with his family in Tampico, Mexico, where whirling mariachi bands let out joyful yells as they stamped and strummed.

Or later:

But the singers didn’t sing words–they sang sounds. They’d sing “Zu-zu-zu!” and “Doo!” and “Pow!”

The sounds make you feel like you’re hearing his weird and crazy music as you read.

Duncan Tonatiuh’s illustrations draw a lush world that reminds me of lounge music and the 1960s.

In the Author’s Note in the back matter, Susan Wood talks about how she got interested in Esquivel and described some of the process of her research. In the Illustrator’s Note, Tonatiuh compares his own process to Esquivel’s: Esquivel took familiar folk forms and changed them into new things. Similarly, Tonatiuh uses the imagery of ancient Mexican art and then transforms it to our 21st Century world. He includes a reproduction of one of those ancient pieces of art to show you exactly what he means.

Esquivel: Space Age Sound Artist, by Susan Wood, illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. Charlesbridge: 2016.

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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).