Tonatiuh, D. (2015). Funny bones: Posada and his day of the dead calaveras. New York, NY: Abrams Books for Young Readers.

SUMMARY:  

Funny Bones is the story of a lesser-known artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada whose artwork, specifically his hilarious and sometimes questionable calaveras or skeleton drawings, has become a staple of Hispanic heritage and celebrations of Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead).  The book tracks Don Lupe, as he was often respectfully called, from his early career through his death, providing readers with exquisite artwork, as well.

APPROPRIATE TARGET AUDIENCE:

School Library Journal suggests that the informational picture book is intended for grades 3 through 6, while Amazon suggests grades 1 through 5.  The book deals with death in a way that elementary students can understand and possibly learn a positive way to cope with by celebrating the life of the deceased, securing its rightful home in any elementary classroom.

STRENGTHS:  

Artwork:  The juxtaposition of Tonatiuh’s very simplistic, yet rich artwork matched with Posada’s calaveras drawings invites the reader to spend more time on each page in order to absorb all aspects of the tale.  Children are drawn to color and art, and this book certainly provides a wealth of both!

Pages 36-40:  At the end of the book, the author has included some useful information, including the following:  an author’s note that discusses the Day of the Dead and Posada in a more mature manner, a glossary of terms with lengthy definitions, a bibliography of sources consulted prior to writing the book, art credits to allow readers to distinguish between Tonatiuh’s and Posada’s works, a listing of places to see Posada’s work in the United States, as well as an index of reference for specific terms.  All of these things at the end add to the rich illustrations and story that Tonatiuh has put together by proving that he has done his research, as well as offering some more insight into Posada today.

Interactive Text:  While Posada’s motivation behind some of his work is evident, Tonatiuh acknowledges that the inspiration behind others is not as clear and seems to use this to his advantage to create a text that can be used interactively with elementary-aged students.  Tonatiuh shares some of Posada’s work through six spreads in the book, asking questions of students as to the artist’s intent/motivation behind the drawings.  This makes it more meaningful for students when they are able to offer their own opinions and discussion when presenting or reading the book.

WEAKNESSES:

N/A

MEANINGFUL/CREATIVE USES:

In the classroom:

Drawing Calaveras:  After reading the book to students, the librarian or teacher could allow students the opportunity to draw and color their own calaveras designs in honor of someone of their choice, allowing them to express their creativity with art and to celebrate someone either dead or alive, either with humor or not.  This could lead to a discussion of how the celebration of the dead is simultaneously a celebration of life, as well. (Note: Use the link to learn how to draw a sugar skull step by step)

Out of the classroom:

Day of the Dead Ofrendas: These offerings/alters are built as a memorial of the dead, whether that be a famous person or someone closer to home.  Creating one of these to celebrate the lives of the deceased would be an interesting way to connect to children and inspire interest in the Hispanic culture, as well as Tonatiuh’s book.  Students could bring in their own calaveras, food, as well as any other crafts or decorations to add to a school- or community-wide ofrenda. (Note: Use the link to access a site dedicated to making one of these alters)

Cultural Heritage Celebration/Hispanic Heritage Month: This book would be a great addition to any programming that deals with Cultural (and more specifically Hispanic) Heritage Celebration.  Decorating an area with these famous calaveras of Don Lupe’s would be an inviting way to get students interested in the book itself. (Note: Use the link to access events associated with National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15)

AWARDS:

  • Sibert Informational Award Winner
  • Pura Belpre (Illustrator) Honor Book
  • New York Times Best Illustrated Books of 2015
  • International Latino Book Award Finalist

IF YOU LIKE FUNNY BONES, YOU WILL ALSO ENJOY:

  • Pancho Rabbit
  • Tonatiuh’s Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale:  The artwork of Tonatiuh is highlighted yet again in this rendition of another richly hispanic tale, but this time Pancho the rabbit is on a quest to find his father who has had to travel north in an attempt to find his father who left to get a job and make ends meet for his family.  Such an interesting allegory of the life of an immigrant and the hardships they face, this is a timeless tale that can start at the elementary level and work its way up to young adult, as well.  It is highly relevant today, especially!
  • Diego Rivera
  • Tonatiuh’s Diego Rivera: His World and Ours:  Another biographical tale from Tonatiuh, Diego Rivera tells the tale of the popular artist and forces readers to question what his art would look like today, much as he does in Funny Bones with Don Lupe’s calaveras.  The juxtaposition of Tonatiuh’s artwork with that of Rivera’s provides a visually appealing book for elementary students and allows them to experience yet another influential artist of hispanic descent.
  • Separate is Never Equal
  • Tonatiuh’s Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation is yet one more of Tonatiuh’s tales of historically influential hispanic people.  This time, the struggle is with a young girl, Sylvia Mendez who is denied access to attend a white-only school in California in the time of segregation despite her obvious ability to succeed.  What is so great about these books is the visual and safe way that these controversies and issues are handled to allow the younger audience to embrace another culture.
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