Friday, October 28, 2016

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

The best biographies are usually about people who should always inspire us - to be better people ourselves. to try new things, to think in new ways, to learn about and appreciate our own as well as different cultures and their cultural productions  And that is just was Duncan Tonatiuh’s book Funny Bones accomplishes for today’s young readers.

Using his own signature Mixtec style, Tonatiuh introduces them to José Guadalupe Posada.  It was Posada who created the calavera or skeleton art so prominently associated with Mexico’s El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations every November 1st and 2nd.

But while his calaveras may be familiar, the artist who created them is not as well known.  Tonatiuh takes readers though Posada’s life and shows them the influences that formed his signature style, and the mediums that went into his later printed creations, including engraving, lithography, and especially etching. 
Lupe, as Posada was called, was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico in 1852, the sixth of eight children and the son of a baker.  He attended art school growing up, and at 18, worked in a print shop, where he learned lithography and engraving.  At that time, the Mexican people were not happy with the job the government was doing, and before long, Lupe began drawing political cartoons for the local newspaper called el Jicote, sometimes depicting the politicians as skeletons.
When politicians became angry at the cartoons, Lupe and his boss Don Trinidad decided to move to the city of León.  There, Lupe opened his own print shop, married and had a son.  But a flood destroyed his shop and Don Lupe moved his family to Mexico City.  Eventually, he opened another shop there.  In the print shop, he began published "broadsides,"intriguing stories on large brightly colored paper.  His drawing on these were so well-done and detailed, everyone was fascinated by them.
El Día de los Muertos celebrations were always a busy time in Mexico, with vendors selling everything needed from marigolds, to sugar skulls, and others items needed for their ofrendas (offerings) for their dead loved one.  Don Lupe began etching the illustrations of the literary calaveras created by fellow editors for the celebrations, which were again very popular among the people.  

Tonatiuh also includes a series of 6 illustrations, juxtaposing the living in his using his Mixtec style with Posada’s calaveras and asking the reader to think about what the illustrations are saying, teaching kids that often there is a powerful meaning behind what appears to be just a fun picture. Below are two examples of that:

This is from an original broadside illustrated by Posada. It refers to the Mexican Revolution.
Tonatiuh used it in the book, asking the question:
Was Don Lupe saying that sometimes calaveras are not a laughing matter?
Funny Bones is a wonderful, well-done biography that is accessible to today's young readers, giving them a cogent look at a powerful artist of his time, whose influence is still felt today.  Be sure to read the Author's Note in which Tonatiuh details the history of El Día de los Muertos. There is also a helpful Glossary and a Bibliography for further exploration, as well as a list of places in the US where you can see José Guadalupe Posada's work.

A detailed Educator's Guide is available for Funny Bones thanks to Vanderbilt University's Center for Latin American Studies.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library

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