The Festival of Bones / El festival de las calaveras

A Little-Bitty Book for the Day of the Dead

By: Luis San Vicente
Illustrator: Luis San Vicente
On Mexico’s Day of the Dead, the skeletons rattle and roll in their biggest party ever!


On Mexico's Day of the Dead, the skeletons rattle and roll in their biggest party ever.

Thirty thousand copies sold!

On Mexico's Day of the Dead, the skeletons jump for sheer joy. And no wonder: they've been cooped up the whole year long and now they're ready to party. Watch the calaveras shake, rattle and roll as they celebrate the biggest event of the graveyard's social calendar!

Mexico's Day of the Dead fascinates kids, whether for its joyful celebration or its unusual traditions. With fantastic illustrations and a wild and fanciful poem, San Vicente captures the spirit of this most marvelous holiday. A short and fun essay, directed toward young readers, explains this important Mexican holiday, and the fun things kids can do to join in the festivities.

Copyright illustration © 1999, Luis San Vicente. All rights reserved. Reproduction or copy of this image is not permitted without permission.Photo hosted by

5 reviews for The Festival of Bones / El festival de las calaveras

  1. Publisher’s Weekly

    “Originally published in Mexico, this bilingual primer on the Day of the Dead may be best suited to those already familiar with the festival. For the uninitiated, an afterword explains that Mexicans celebrate el día de los muertes from October 31 to November 2. Feasts, music and visits to gravesites help the living honor the dead, who are believed by many to return for the festivities. Vicente, a respected Mexico City artist, creates charming skeletal characters; their playfulness accentuates the holiday’s merriment. Rendered in a style reminiscent of scratchboard illustrations, his bony subjects dance in top hats and ride bicycles amid a fetchingly surreal world. For ‘Pascual’s skeleton sings a song/ Without any pain or dread/ Although half a leg is really gone/ Still a flower sits upon his head,’ he pictures the skeletal fellow balanced on one leg atop a crescent moon and a wide-eyed owl as his audience. For those immersed in Mexican culture, this neatly designed square volume offers a fresh look at a familiar subject. Ideas on how to honor the dead and recipes for the holiday feast are included.”

  2. School Library Journal

    “Dancing skeletons create a party atmosphere in the celebration of el Dia de los Muertos. They zip around, coming, going, dancing—all of them happy and content to celebrate their big day in style. The text moves with a lively dance meter. San Vicente’s artwork, done in black outlines with touches of warm color, is just sinister enough to produce a little frisson, but not so frightening as to be off putting to young readers and listeners. The book concludes with information on traditional foods and crafts associated with the holiday. This title surely sets the scene for an explanation as to why the Day of the Dead is the celebration of life rather than a time of mourning.”

  3. Críticas

    “In this charming book, San Vicente narrates and illustrates a poetic story about the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead. Readers will follow skeletons as they make their way toward the graveyard, some flying, others riding bikes, and others dancing their way there. The book gives instructions on how to celebrate the holiday, from how to build an altar to making ‘bread for the dead’ and decorative sugar skulls. San Vicente uses curving lines and slanted images in his drawings to convey movement, and the colors vary from monochromatic to vivid tones. One of the most attractive images in the book depicts a stagecoach with skeleton passengers, a skeleton driver, and skeleton horses. Overall, the illustrations are comical, and not at all frightening, which will enable children of all ages to enjoy the book. A wonderful addition to bilingual collections in elementary and public libraries.”

  4. Washington Post Book World

    “In Mexico, people celebrate the Day of the Dead from Oct. 31 (the eve of All Hallows, or Halloween) through Nov. 2. And celebrate is the right word: As Mexico City artist Luis San Vicente says, ‘It’s a party, not a funeral.’ His remarkable little poem, given in both the original Spanish and a rather free English translation, conjures up merry skeletons enjoying their special day but doesn’t shrink from the facts. Here’s a sample: ‘La calaca Pascuala canta/ Sin pena ni temor/ Aunque le falte una pata/ Y en el sombrero lleve una flor.’ (‘Pascal’s skeleton sings a song/ Without any pain or dread/ Although half a leg is really gone/ Still a flower sits upon his head.’) Also included: recipes for sugar skulls and pan de muerto, the bread of death.”

  5. The Bulletin of the Center for a Children’s Books

    “The Day of the Dead, the cheerfully macabre Mexican holiday of remembrance, receives a breezy poetic and visual treatment in this compact volume. Gleeful rhythmic and occasionally rhyming verse in English and Spanish detail the peregrinations of the skeletons (‘They are coming and they are going\ And you see them passing by’) and their enjoyment of the festivities (‘Although half a leg is really gone\Still a flower sits upon his head’). Though several explanatory pages (including instructions for making alters, pan de muerto, and sugar skulls) are appended to this posthumous pageantry, this is a far cry from the decorative taxidermy of many texts on holidays; instead, this evokes the spirit of the Festival in the way that kids will appreciate. The pictures are so diverting that such concerns may be forgotten however: jovial blank-eyed skeletons in fancy dress are ethereal yet solid, formed from a white line crosshatch that sometimes suggests lace and sometimes wood grain. The odd bit of collage and tidy little borders (in bone, of course) add texture and structure, while the earth tone colors are enlivened with the occasional splash of sky blue.”

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