In Day of the Dead by Tony Johnston (author) and Jeannette Winter (illustrator), two children in Mexico wake up one morning to the sound of mama slapping empanada dough in the kitchen. Thus begins a day full of festive preparations for the Dia de los Muertos. In the orchard, uncles gather oranges and tejocotes (a fruit local to Mexico). Aunties spend the afternoon stirring a mole sauce of chocolate and chile over the stove. Papa comes out of the bakery with several mysterious bundles. The children want a peek at the bundle and a taste of the empanadas, but the adults keep telling them, “Esperense,” (wait). “Esperense” adds melodic repetition throughout the story after each of the children’s attempts to sneak a taste of the holiday goodies. The children can hardly contain their excitement for the magical procession and joyful celebration that night at the town cemetery.
This book brings the Day of the Dead to life for any child through familiar feelings of excitement and expectancy that accompany important family holidays. Although written in English, Day of the Dead fluidly integrates many Spanish words and phrases. Each segment of the story introduces a facet of preparing for the holiday, like buying sugar skulls (calaveras de azúcar), with different family members involved. The illustrations are brightly colored with lively border decorations, creating a real warmth. Unlike some other books that focus on potentially spooky skeletons or are too heavily descriptive of the holiday itself, this book is a simple and sweet presentation of Day of the Dead as a celebratory family tradition in Mexico.