The Dead Family Diaz: A Story of Family, Fiestas, and Friendship by P.J. Bracegirdle with illustrations by Poly Bernatene is a fantastic and fun addition to the woefully small selection of kid's books about El Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico on November 1. For Mexicans, and many Americans, the Day of the Dead is a time to remember and appreciate friends and family who have died. At the graves of loved ones, altars laden with favorite foods and other items, especially the bright orange marigold flowers, are made to welcome the souls of the dead. There is singing and dancing and celebrating. Colorful skeletons, delicately gorgeous tissue paper banners called Papel Picados and special candies make the day vibrantly festive rather than frightening.
The Dead Family Diaz: A Story of Family, Fiestas, and Friendship weaves the worlds of the dead and the living together in a story told from the perspective of Angelito (also the name for those who died in childhood), the youngest member in the Dead Family Diaz. In the Land of the Dead, spirits were high as morning came and the "dead sun chased off the dead moon." Angelito is scared by the possibility of encountering a living human during the Day of the Dead, the one day of the year when the dead walked among the living. Before his Huevos Muertos can even get cold, his big sister Estrellita, is teasing him mercilessly. She tells him that the living have "big red tongues and bulging eyes" and if you touch one they feel "hot and squishy!"
The family piles into their car and heads downtown to the elevator that will take them to the Land of the Living.
The family manages to squeeze into the elevator and emerges in the Land of the Living, smack in the middle of a central square where celebrations are under way. In the Land of the Living, every one seems to be wearing skeleton masks! Angelito runs and hides, getting separated from his family, and makes a new friend, Pablo. Assuming that Pablo is also from the Land of the Dead, Angelito befriends him and they prepare for an attack that turns out to be a parade. When the two boys realize that one of them is dead and one of them is alive, mayhem ensues.
Both run off in opposite directions, but meet up again at the cemetery where their families, and the rest of the village, are celebrating. The boys reunite to give Estrellita a good scare.
The plot of The Dead Family Diaz: A Story of Family, Fiestas, and Friendship is simple and tidy, but that's just fine. There is SO MUCH to see in Bernatene's raucous illustrations. This is a book that all readers will enjoy, even those unfamiliar with Mexican culture.
Source: Review Copy