Award-Winning Books Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] Dancing Calaveras in Tonatiuh’s “Funny Bones”

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Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2016 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.

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I have read a lot of good reviews about Duncan Tonatiuh’s books – and I am glad I found this award-winning title in our library bookshelves. This book was also nominated for CYBILS 2015 – our current reading theme until end of February.


Funny Bones: Posada And His Day of the Dead Calaveras

Written and Illustrated by: Duncan Tonatiuh
Published by: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015; Sibert Medal (2016), Kirkus Prize Nominee for Young Readers’ Literature (Finalist) (2015)
Book borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

In this PBB, the reader gets introduced to a little-known-artist named José Guadalupe Posada who popularized the “festive bony figures calaveras,” often seen during the Day of the Dead. The book traces Posada’s history as far back as 1852, the year he was born, along with a description of his huge family – with eight children in all. It appears that Posada’s talent manifested itself even when he was young. He was fortunate to have an older brother named Cirilo, a school teacher, who recognized his talent and paved the way for his enrolling in a local art academy. What particularly worked for me is the gradual build up of the story along with specific details on how Posada mastered his craft – see below for the very detailed steps in engraving that he learned in his first job:


It appeared that Posada also used his art for social justice, with  his caricatures serving as forms of social commentaries that indicated his approval or displeasure with social events or politicians. And it was quite ingenious how Tonatiuh juxtaposed his own distinctive artistic rendering of Posada’s life story alongside Posada’s actual cartoons and drawings:


I especially enjoyed how Tonatiuh made use of some of Posada’s posters – and wrote his own musings about what Don Lupe or Posada might have meant as he created those drawings (see below)


This book also resonated with me a great deal as I have always perceived very strong parallels between the Filipino and Mexican culture. While Mexicans celebrate El Dia De Muertos, Filipinos refer to these two dates in November as Todos Los Santos or All Saints Day – often inextricably linked with All Souls Day. And the celebration, of course, comes with its own rituals, not dissimilar to what Tonatiuh shared here.

Teachers would also be very happy to note that there is an extensive Author’s Note found at the end of the book, along with a detailed Glossary, Bibliography and further reference materials. Needless to say, I became even more intrigued by Posadas and was glad to have found this video collage of some of his works on Youtube. Enjoy!

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Singapore. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she serves as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads or meeting up with her book club friends, she is smashing that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life.

6 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] Dancing Calaveras in Tonatiuh’s “Funny Bones”

  1. Oh interesting! What age group would you think this would be appropriate for? Does it go into the meaning behind Day of the Dead at all? Thanks!


  2. I’ve already gone back and read it a couple of times, each time learning something new. Thanks for the link to the youtube video!


  3. This is one book from last year I still haven’t read, and you’ve made it even more interesting by drawing those parallels, Myra. Thanks for the video, too.


  4. I’m glad to hear the author provides an Author’s Note, Glossary, Bibliography and further reference material – this is a subject area that I think most readers in my area might only know the basics about, so it’s very helpful to have additional information to put the story into context. Thanks for sharing this, and also for sharing a bit about Philippine culture as well!


  5. This sounds really cool! 😀


  6. Pingback: [Saturday Reads | DiverseKidLit] A Mexican Legend in Duncan Tonatiuh’s The Princess and the Warrior – Gathering Books

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