Reviewed by Cecilia Cackley
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK (from Goodreads): Funny Bones tells the story of how the amusing calaveras—skeletons performing various everyday or festive activities—came to be. They are the creation of Mexican artist José Guadalupe (Lupe) Posada (1852–1913). In a country that was not known for freedom of speech, he first drew political cartoons, much to the amusement of the local population but not the politicians. He continued to draw cartoons throughout much of his life, but he is best known today for his calavera drawings. They have become synonymous with Mexico’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival. Juxtaposing his own art with that of Lupe’s, author Duncan Tonatiuh brings to light the remarkable life and work of a man whose art is beloved by many but whose name has remained in obscurity.
MY TWO CENTS: I can’t say enough good things about this book! Tonatiuh tells Posada’s life story simply, while still giving background information on events such as the Mexican Revolution for context. The pages showing a breakdown of the three distinct artistic processes that Posada used (lithography, engraving and etching) are especially helpful in visualizing exactly how he created his drawings. Tonatiuh’s signature profile figures, inspired by Mixtec codex imagery, fit nicely alongside Posada’s black and white skeletons. The full page reproductions of famous skeleton art alongside a question about what message Posada was communicating with his art push readers to consider the goals of the artist. A detailed author’s note, glossary, and bibliography are essential for those looking for further information. This is a great read aloud for younger kids that still has enough detail and big ideas for older readers.
TEACHING TIPS: This is going to be a marvelous read aloud for both art teachers and classroom teachers. While many people will likely choose to highlight it during National Hispanic Heritage Month or around Dia de Muertos, it should also be a good fit for classes studying political cartoons or art history. Tonatiuh’s fantastic spread at the end of the book showing skeletons doing present day activities is a wonderful prompt for students to create their own calaveras artwork. As our world becomes more global and art and culture make their way across borders, this book provides an opportunity to discuss the importance of crediting artists and researching the history of particular art and cultural traditions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Duncan was born in Mexico City and grew up in San Miguel de Allende. He graduated from Parsons The New School for Design and from Eugene Lang College in New York City in 2008. His work is inspired by Ancient Mexican art, particularly that of the Mixtec codex. His aim is to create images that honor the past, but that address contemporary issues that affect people of Mexican origin on both sides of the border. His book Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale is the winner of the 2014 Tomás Rivera Mexican American children’s book award. It is also the first book to receive two honorable mentions, one for the illustrations and one for the text, from the Pura Belpré Award for a work that best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in children’s books. The book was featured in USA Today, The Chicago Sun, The Houston Chronicle among other major publications because it deals with the controversial topic of immigration. His book Diego Rivera: His World and Ours won the 2012 Pura Belpré illustration award. It also won the 2012 Tomás Rivera. His first book Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin received an honorable mention from the Pura Belpré Award in 2011. It was named an Americas Award Commended Title and a Notable Book for a Global Society list.
Cecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington DC where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.