Celebrating the Day of the Dead

Illustrations of skeleton drawings

The Day of the Dead is a time of both joy and quiet remembrance as families honor their loved ones who have died. While variations of the Day of the Dead are celebrated in many Latin American countries, some of the most well-known traditions are those from Mexico, where the celebration coincides with the return of the Monarch butterflies.

Lesson plan idea

Take a look at this Day of the Dead lesson plan from TeacherVision! (Grades 3-8)

Each of the books on this list offers a unique interpretation of the holiday that will provide an excellent introduction for students who are new to the Day of the Dead, as well as an important opportunity for students who celebrate the holiday to share their own family traditions.

Note: Please keep in mind that the Day of the Dead may be especially poignant for families who are separated from each other and mourning the loss of loved ones due to COVID-19.

Clatter Bash! A Day of the Dead Celebration

Clatter Bash! A Day of the Dead Celebration

Get ready for a party — these skeletons are ready to celebrate the Day of the Dead! They sing, they dance, they eat…but mostly they make a lot of noise! This playful book captures the festive mood of the Day of the Dead through its energetic illustrations and text, which consists of musical phrases and rhythms. The author's note is written in English but incorporates Spanish words and expressions into the explanation.

Coco: Miguel and the Grand Harmony

Coco: Miguel and the Grand Harmony
Illustrated by: Ana Ramírez González
Age Level: 6-9

This jacketed picture book pairs Newbery Winner Matt de la Peña and Pixar artist Ana Ramírez with the highly anticipated Pixar Studios film, Coco. Featuring a beautiful original story based on the characters of the film, as well as vibrant stylized artwork, this title is sure to appeal to readers of all ages.

Day of the Dead

Illustrated by: Jeanette Winter
Age Level: 6-9

"Above a small town in Mexico, the sun rises like a great marigold." So begins one family's preparation for El día de los muertos. The children are eager to try just a taste of this and that, but everyone says they must wait until the family is ready to take their offerings to the cemetery for a night of celebration and remembrance. The warmth of this story about one of Mexico's most important traditions shines through the text and illustrations.

Felipa and the Day of the Dead

Age Level: 6-9

"When Abuelita dies, Felipa misses her a great deal. When she is told that people's souls live on forever, she asks the donkey, the pig, and the llamas where her grandmother is hiding. They do not tell her. She searches high in the Andes but can not find her there either. In November, the village prepares for a celebration in which special treats, flowers, and candles are taken to decorate the graves and the cemetery comes to life with laughter, music, and stories.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Their Lives and Ideas, 24 Activities

Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: Children will find artistic inspiration as they learn about iconic artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in these imaginative and colorful activities. The art and ideas of Kahlo and Rivera are explored through projects that include painting a self-portrait Kahlo-style, creating a mural with a social message like Rivera, making a Day of the Dead ofrenda, and crafting an Olmec head carving.

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras
Age Level: 6-9

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. However, today 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.

Gustavo, the Shy Ghost

Illustration of cute ghost
Age Level: 3-6

Gustavo is good at doing all sorts of ghostly things: walking through walls, making objects fly, and glowing in the dark. And he loves almost nothing more than playing beautiful music on his violin. But Gustavo is shy, and some things are harder for him to do, like getting in a line to buy eye scream or making friends with other monsters. Whenever he tries getting close to them, he realizes they just can’t see him. Now that the Day of the Dead is fast approaching, what can he do to make them notice him and to share with them something he loves?

I Remember Abuelito: A Day of the Dead Story

I Remember Abuelito: A Day of the Dead Story
Illustrated by: Loretta López
Language: Spanish (Bilingual Eng/Sp)

As a family prepares for the Day of the Dead, a young girl remembers her grandfather, and wonders when and how his spirit will return to visit. Perhaps, she thinks, he will come back with the Monarch butterflies who are returning to Mexico — as long as he doesn't get lost! Warm, colorful illustrations bring the lovely setting and story to life, making this an excellent selection for younger readers.

Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book

Age Level: 3-6

What's an old woman to do when a skeleton comes to visit? Keep him waiting, of course, while busy doing things from 1 to 10, culminating in a festive birthday celebration. Lively language and illustrations make this original tale memorable.

Little Skeletons Countdown to Midnight / Esqueletitos: Un libro para contar en El Día de los Muertos

Age Level: 0-3
Language: Spanish (Bilingual Eng/Sp)

Little Skeletons / Esqueletitos is a Day of the Dead-themed take on the traditional Latin American song "Los Esqueletitos (Calaveras) Salen de la Tumba”, with art inspired by the famous Mexican Calavera woodcut prints. A moveable clock at the start of the book will tempt little fingers to change the time along with the story, while increasing numbers of tiny skeletons beg to be counted.

Maria Molina and the Days of the Dead

Illustrated by: Enrique O. Sanchez
Age Level: 6-9

Maria's story begins as she honors her baby brother on the first Day of the Dead. Maria is sad about the deaths in her family, but she feels a little bit better while she spends time with her family. When her parents go North to the United States, however, Maria has to confront a new kinds of sadness — until the family is again reunited and Maria helps them maintain their important traditions in a new place. Young children who have experienced loss or separation may feel a particular connection with Maria and her story.

Mi Familia Calaca: A Mexican Folk Art Family in English and Spanish

Photo of skeleton statues
Illustrated by: Jesús Canseco Zarate
Age Level: 3-6
Language: Spanish (Bilingual Eng/Sp)

Welcome to the family! It's just like yours: father, mother, sister, brother, abuelita, gato, even a great-great grandmother. Well, but there's something just a little bit different about this particular family. Maybe it's those clothes they wear . . . just a little bit fashion backward. And the colors! So vibrant and . . . lively. Maybe that's what it is. They are just so full of life while looking almost other worldly.

Our Day of the Dead Celebration

Illustration of children playing with skeletons
Age Level: 3-6

The Day of the Dead is a happy day when Mar’s family gathers together. There are favorite dishes to enjoy, games to be played, and most importantly, stories to tell. No one in the family is forgotten because this is the day of the year when the dead come to visit the living — and for this holiday it is almost as if they’re alive again, as the family takes great joy in celebrating the things that made them special. Mar realizes she is just like her Grandpa Ramón, who kept a journal. And her sister, Paz, plays accordian, just like their great-grandfather.

Pablo Remembers

Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

This compelling photo essay from George Ancona follows the preparations of young Pablo and his family for the Day of the Dead as they remember Pablo's grandmother. Ancona's photos cover a wide range of the family's activities, from a trip to the market to the family altar overflowing with marigolds. Ancona offers readers an authentic glimpse of daily life in Oaxaca, Mexico, as well as a sense of the love and care with which the family prepares for the celebration. Spanish version available.

The Day of the Dead

This non-fiction book provides children with an introduction to the historic origins of the Day of the Dead, as well as some of the well-known Mexican traditions connected with the holiday. Since many of the photographs include children and families, readers will get a sense of what this celebration is like for the youngest participants.

The Day of the Dead

Illustration of a skeleton playing a guitar

Bright illustrations convey the festive traditions of the Latin American celebration known as the Day of the Dead accompanied by a straightforward Spanish/English text. An endnote about the holiday as well as the inspiration for the art are included.

The Festival of Bones

Cartoons of skeletons dancing
Language: Spanish (Bilingual Eng/Sp)

With the humor and spirit of the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead, this imaginative festival depicts the travels, dances, and songs of happy skulls and skeletons. The easy rhyming text and the fanciful illustrations have a definite Mexican flavor.

The Remembering Day / El día de los muertos

Illustration of girl and grandmother picking flowers
By: Pat Mora
Illustrated by: Robert Casilla
Age Level: 6-9
Language: Spanish (Bilingual Eng/Sp)

Long, long, long ago, Bella and her grandmother Mamá Alma admired their vegetable garden. They liked gardening together. They grew sunflowers and lilies too, and chatted with lizards and hummingbirds. They walked around the flowers and vegetables holding hands, something they had done frequently since Bella was a baby. As her grandmother aged, Bella helped her to walk. "Every year, I need your help more and more," said Mamá Alma.

The Spirit of Tío Fernando: A Day of the Dead Story

Illustration of a girl walking with a relative by candlelight
Illustrated by: Morella Fuenmayor
Language: Spanish (Bilingual Eng/Sp)

Nando has many fond memories of Uncle Fernando, which he thinks of as he and his mother prepare to honor Fernando's memory. When Nando goes to the market to look for things that remind him of his uncle, he wonders just how he will know that Fernando's spirit has returned. Rich in detail, this story offers a perfect introduction to the Mexican customs of the Day of the Dead.

Uncle Monarch and the Day of the Dead

Illustration of a young girl watching a butterfly fly past
Illustrated by: René King Moreno
Age Level: 6-9

Day after day, Lupita and Tío Urbano watch the Monarch butterflies arrive. Urbano says they are the souls of the dead ones arriving in time for Día de los muertos. When Urbano becomes sick and dies soon after, Lupita feels only sadness — until she sees the Monarchs and remembers Urbano's words. The beautiful story and illustrations bring the true meaning of this important celebration to life for readers young and old.