Today All Souls Day and the Day of the Dead Intertwine Through the Remembrance of Our Dead.
Day of the Dead Activity Book
by Karl Jones and Steve Simpson
Uncle Monarch and the Day of the Dead
by Judy Goldman; illustrated by Rene King Moreno
November 2nd is a day designated by some as a day of remembrance for those members of our families that have died. In the Christian community, it is known as All Souls Day. Families members that have died are prayed for in a special way and remembered with fondness.
Death can be a very sensitive topic for those with very young children and, in our American culture it seems to be something that we shy away from in conversation and shield our children from, lest they become frightened by the topic.
But here, as with the introduction of so many other sensitive topics, the picture book can provide an easing into a discussion of such topics, with the picture book as the jumping off spot.
Enter two great picture books: “The Day of the Dead Activity Book” by Karl Jones and Steve Simpson AND “Uncle Monarch and the Day of the Dead” by Judy Goldman; illustrated by Rene King Moreno. More on both in a bit.
In Mexico, Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead is celebrated by families in early November and even in certain communities here, in the United States. It coincides with the observance of All Souls Day in the Christian calendar.
On Dia de Muertos, special cakes and breads ( la offrenda or offerings) are prepared and an altar called ofrendas are built and decorated with flowers and photos of departed family members.
On November 2nd, the family goes to the cemetery to sing songs, share stories, decorate graves and celebrate the lives of the ones they love that are no longer with them.
When I first heard of this celebration, I have to admit it sounded a bit off putting, but the more I thought about it, the more natural it seemed to introduce the reality of death to children in a way that is family and activity centered.
“The Day of the Dead Activity Book” is a colorful compilation of the history and traditions surrounding the celebration. Its pages are loaded with mazes, puzzles, and punch out masks to be decorated with provided stickers.
Even a home made “ofrendas” form is included to fashion a shrine for the festivities. If Dia de Mueros is something you may wish to know more about, here is a activity packed book to introduce your children to this newly popular celebration.
In “Uncle Monarch and the Day of the Dead”, Lupita and her favorite uncle, Tio Urbano, welcome the blessing of beautiful monarch butterflies back to Mexico each year as November 2nd nears. Lupita is told never to harm or capture the butterflies as they fill the nearby trees. It is their belief they are the souls of the departed. I love the gentle way Lupita’s uncle tells her not to be afraid in the words, “Never be afraid of the dead for those who loved us can never hurt us.” He explains their memory is to be treasured and never forgotten and the butterflies are their reminders.
Lupita’s family decorates the house with flowers, photos and the beautiful “cempazuchitl” flower petals They purchase sugar-coated “pan de muertos” and other favorite foods for the celebration.
But one thing seems different this year. Uncle Urbano is ill and cannot participate except to watch the preparations and the gorgeous butterflies as they fly home.
Shortly before the feast, Uncle Urbano is taken from them and the rituals of the feast of Dia de Muertos take on a deeper meaning for Lupita and her family. Will Uncle Urbano send her a sign?
Judy Goldman has done a fine job of incorporating the traditions of the feast in a personal framework of the story of a child and her family that kids may relate to. Additionally, a glossary of Spanish words used in the story are included at the back to explain new terms to children. And guess what? I saw a butterfly today on my porch, and as it flew around me, I just had to smile.
And, I remembered the words of a priest friend of mine reminded me about regarding the passing of those we love.
“So long as their names are spoken of and remembered with fondness and love, so long will they continue to remain alive in our lives.”
On All Souls Day, he encouraged people, if at all possible, to go to the graves of their loved ones and speak their names aloud.
Thank you Fr. Ashley, for the reminder.
So, here I am… Thank you Elizabeth Krupa, Walter Hart, Antoinette and Adam Shanks…and so many more whose names are on my lips today.
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