Right off the bat, I want to say that I absolutely LOVE Día de muertos. I’m Mexican, and this is one of the things I love most about my culture. It’s a very colorful, heart-warming, and somehow cozy tradition. I’ll work my way to some books that feature Día de muertos. But first, let me talk to you a bit about the celebration.
In English, it’s known as The Day of the Dead. Día de muertos is a Mexican tradition to remember friends and family (even pets!) who have passed away. Typically, you put up a type of altar called an ofrenda, and you fill it with food, flowers, photographs, sugar skulls, Catrinas, and other knickknacks that belonged to — or remind you of — the deceased. There’s also pan de muerto — a delicious bread that’s usually coated with sugar. But I digress. It’s all very personal, so you can put whatever you want in your own ofrenda. Some people make them in cemeteries, but it’s equally common to put up the altar in your house.
Día de muertos is celebrated the first two days of November, though some people put up their ofrendas way before that. It’s celebrated those days because it’s believed that that’s when the veil is thinner. So the dead may cross over and enjoy the offerings set out for them. Be it because of that, or because you put up things that remind you of your loved ones, they feel closer during that time.
If that sounds like something you want to read more of, fret not! There aren’t that many books about — or featuring — Día de muertos. Most of them are board books, but we already have a list for those. But, that’s not to say there aren’t any books about it. So I’ve compiled this list of eight books about/featuring Día de muertos and divided it by age and genre. There will be some nonfiction — so you can learn more about the tradition — plus some children’s and young adult books.
So get ready for eight great books that talk about Día de muertos one way or the other.
Día de muertos Books
Through the Eyes of the Soul: Mexico City, Mixquic & Morelos by Mary Andrade
This is a great nonfiction book about The Day of the Dead because it’s chock-full of pictures! The author traveled the country, visiting tons of places and photographing everything so that she could establish how the tradition varies between regions. This is the third book she published about it, and it focuses on the central region of Mexico. Each photograph comes with its own text, explaining some part of the tradition around Día de muertos such as flowers or skull candy. Plus, I promise there’s nothing better than looking at pictures to understand more about this tradition.
Fun fact: Mary Andrade was a cultural consultant for the Pixar movie Coco!
Llewellyn’s Little Book of the Day of the Dead by Jaime Gironés
This book starts off more informative, as the author talks about his experience with the tradition, and gives some historical context. The second half of the book turns into a fun guide full of activities for you to celebrate The Day of the Dead. There are spells, recipes, rituals, crafts, and even meditations that you can follow — or adapt — to honor your dead. It’s great if you not only want to learn more about the tradition, but want to participate in it too!
This Party’s Dead is a travel memoir that features The Day of the Dead. It’s not just about it, though. It also talks about six other death festivals from Nepal, Sicily, Thailand, Madagascar, Japan, and Indonesia — all because the author went on a trip around the world to try to make sense of the grief from her father-in-law’s passing. So, it will give you a glimpse into how other cultures deal with death, including today’s topic of interest — Día de muertos. It’s emotional and informational — and it teaches you that death isn’t something that scary after all. Which is what this tradition is all about!
Día De Los Muertos by Hannah Eliot and Jorge Gutiérrez
I couldn’t help but mention one board book in this list because I LOVE the illustrations. They were drawn by Jorge Gutiérrez, the same artist who wrote and directed The Book of Life, and they are stunning. The book also teaches kids a lot about the traditions that come with Día de muertos, such as the altar, the cempasúchil flowers, and the food — all in a very easy and approachable manner. Though most of it is in English, there are some Spanish words — and their translations — that can also help kids learn the language.
A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano
Now we move on to middle grade books! A Dash of Trouble is super fun— full of magic and baked goods. It begins on Día de muertos, when Leonora skips school to sneak into her family’s bakery. She’s determined to join the family business; but when she goes inside, she discovers that her aunt, mother, and sisters are all brujas who infuse some of their magic into their pastries. Leo knows she has magic too. So when her best friend is in trouble, she doesn’t hesitate to try out her craft. What could go wrong?
Lou Lou and Pea and the Mural Mystery by Jill Diamond and Lesley Vamos
This book is a fun and sweet middle grade mystery full of adventure and friendship. Plus, it comes with some simple yet pretty illustrations! It follows best friends Lou Lou and Pea, who live in a neighborhood called El Corazón (“The Heart”). Right before the Day of the Dead parade, crimes crop up around the neighborhood. Someone is wrecking flowers and dresses, and clues start to pop-up in the murals that adorn the streets. So Lou Lou and Pea join forces to solve the mystery.
Young Adult Fiction
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Cemetery Boys is such a fun, emotional, and heartwarming read, and I love that it incorporates elements of Latinx culture like the Día de muertos celebration. The story follows Yadriel, a brujo who is determined to prove himself to his family. He performs a ritual to summon a ghost to help him solve the mystery of his cousin’s murder. But he accidentally summons the ghost of Julian Diaz — the resident bad-boy who needs to tie some loose ends before he leaves. They strike a deal, vowing to help each other on their quests. A bond grows between them soon after. And as The Day of the Dead approaches, Yadriel is hesitant to release Julian lest he loses him forever.
The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales
This is a coming-of-age story about family, traditions, and identity. The Tequila Worm follows Sofía, a Mexican-American teen that grew up in a Latinx neighborhood in Texas. She’s an exemplary student, which earned her a prestigious scholarship at a private school miles away. Her parents don’t want her to leave, and she spends a lot of time trying to convince them. In the meanwhile, we see her as she prepares for several traditions— such as The Day of the Dead!