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October 8, 2018

Understanding Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) With Books

By Juan Gonzalez
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    One of my favorite teacher moments is when a student eagerly shows me what they’re reading. Several years ago, a student walked up to me with an informational book titled El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) and said, “Mr. G, look, Mexico’s Halloween!” Flipping through the book together, we could see, however, that they are in fact, two different holidays. While it is easy to understand confusing Día de los Muertos with Halloween, I hope to help clear the misconception with a moment from my own childhood and by sharing some truly wonderful books that offer a better insight into Día de los Muertos.

    As with many traditions, this holiday has a rich history and has evolved since it began 2,500 years ago. Coming from Mexico, Día de los Muertos is observed from October 31 to November 2 and honors and celebrates the lives of those who have passed. Activities include visiting cemeteries, cooking large meals, and sharing stories of loved ones. Growing up, my own grandparents would tell me that the holiday is a “ . . . celebration of life and death. We remember those who have moved on and we cherish those we still have with us.”

    First, a Word On Talking About Death in the Classroom

    While Día de los Muertos is a beautiful and uplifting tradition, it is also one that deals with a heavy topic for some of our growing learners. As a classroom teacher, use your best judgement on how deep you want to dig into the holiday. One year, I had a student who had recently lost a family member and was devastated by the loss. I knew it was in our best interest to share the holiday minimally. Instead of reading the books aloud with the students, that year I displayed them in our classroom library and invited those curious to know more about the Latin holiday to explore the books on their own.

    Must-Share Books for Día de los Muertos

    The Day of the Dead / El Dia de los Muertos: A Bilingual Celebration by Bob Barner

    This is a perfect informational picture book with beautifully wrought illustrations about the history, traditions, and meaning of Dia de los Muertos. It presents the information at a basic level that makes it great for an introductory lesson into the holiday.

     

    Celebrating Holidays: Day of the Dead by Rachel Grack

    Grack’s book is a wonderful introduction to the Mexican holiday. It provides a simple insight into the history. What makes this a perfect book for all readers are the beautiful photographs used to illustrate the traditions surrounding Día de los Muertos. Readers are treated to superb visuals of the symbols tied to the holiday including images of sugar skulls, decorated graves, and foods from the celebration.

     

    Rosita y Conchita: A Rhyming Story in English & Spanish by Eric Gonzalez and Erich Haeger

    The illustrations in this book alone make it a must-have picture book! We meet two sisters, one living and one who has died on Día de los Muertos. They are both using the customs of the holiday to find their way back to each other to say, "I love you." As we go on the journey with Rosita and Conchita, we learn about the different ways the Day of the Dead is observed.

     

    Happy Reading!  

    One of my favorite teacher moments is when a student eagerly shows me what they’re reading. Several years ago, a student walked up to me with an informational book titled El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) and said, “Mr. G, look, Mexico’s Halloween!” Flipping through the book together, we could see, however, that they are in fact, two different holidays. While it is easy to understand confusing Día de los Muertos with Halloween, I hope to help clear the misconception with a moment from my own childhood and by sharing some truly wonderful books that offer a better insight into Día de los Muertos.

    As with many traditions, this holiday has a rich history and has evolved since it began 2,500 years ago. Coming from Mexico, Día de los Muertos is observed from October 31 to November 2 and honors and celebrates the lives of those who have passed. Activities include visiting cemeteries, cooking large meals, and sharing stories of loved ones. Growing up, my own grandparents would tell me that the holiday is a “ . . . celebration of life and death. We remember those who have moved on and we cherish those we still have with us.”

    First, a Word On Talking About Death in the Classroom

    While Día de los Muertos is a beautiful and uplifting tradition, it is also one that deals with a heavy topic for some of our growing learners. As a classroom teacher, use your best judgement on how deep you want to dig into the holiday. One year, I had a student who had recently lost a family member and was devastated by the loss. I knew it was in our best interest to share the holiday minimally. Instead of reading the books aloud with the students, that year I displayed them in our classroom library and invited those curious to know more about the Latin holiday to explore the books on their own.

    Must-Share Books for Día de los Muertos

    The Day of the Dead / El Dia de los Muertos: A Bilingual Celebration by Bob Barner

    This is a perfect informational picture book with beautifully wrought illustrations about the history, traditions, and meaning of Dia de los Muertos. It presents the information at a basic level that makes it great for an introductory lesson into the holiday.

     

    Celebrating Holidays: Day of the Dead by Rachel Grack

    Grack’s book is a wonderful introduction to the Mexican holiday. It provides a simple insight into the history. What makes this a perfect book for all readers are the beautiful photographs used to illustrate the traditions surrounding Día de los Muertos. Readers are treated to superb visuals of the symbols tied to the holiday including images of sugar skulls, decorated graves, and foods from the celebration.

     

    Rosita y Conchita: A Rhyming Story in English & Spanish by Eric Gonzalez and Erich Haeger

    The illustrations in this book alone make it a must-have picture book! We meet two sisters, one living and one who has died on Día de los Muertos. They are both using the customs of the holiday to find their way back to each other to say, "I love you." As we go on the journey with Rosita and Conchita, we learn about the different ways the Day of the Dead is observed.

     

    Happy Reading!  

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Susan Cheyney

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