Archive | October, 2014

Learning about Dia de los Muertos

31 Oct

Dia de los Muertos, or day of the dead, is a celebration that started with the Aztecs of Mexico and is still observed in Mexico and throughout Latin America, as well as in the United States.

For Dia, which lasts from October 31 until November 2, families come together to remember the deceased. People visit and clean their relatives’ gravesites at cemeteries; build altars (or ofrendas) with pictures and mementos of their loved ones; and prepare foods that were favored by the deceased. The goal of these acts is to entice their relatives’ spirits to visit, as it is believed that spirits come back to the living world on those days. While the occasion sounds somber, it is actually one of love, celebration, and feasts.

Orale Mexican Kitchen in Jersey City has a great example of an altar in their front window, which has pictures of Kurt Cobain, Heath Ledger, Jim Morrison, and Marilyn Monroe. Note the marigolds, the candles, and the skulls, all of which are also included in these types of altars.

orale altar

I first learned about Dia de los Muertos at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. After that visit, I decided to find out more about Dia and its customs and history.

I think the following books are great for learning more about this lively and touching celebration. These books are aimed at children, but I feel that anyone can enjoy them.

Day of the Dead, by Carrie Gleason












This book is a straightforward overview of the celebration. It is nonfiction, and includes a dictionary of terms and an index in the back. Readers will also learn about the history of the Aztecs in Mexico, and how Dia evolved after the Spanish came to the country.

The Day of the Dead/El Dia de los Muertos, by Bob Barner











The text in this book is written in English and Spanish, which is excellent for those learning both languages. There is a rhythm to the story that makes it ideal for reading aloud. The colorful and visually appealing illustrations make the skeletons seem friendly and not scary.

A Gift for Abuelita: Celebrating the Day of the Dead, by Nancy Luenn












Image via

This is the story of Rosita, a young girl who prepares for a Dia de los Muertos celebration with her family, during which she hopes to see her beloved Abuelita. This is another book where the story is told in English and Spanish. The textured artwork illustrating the story is gorgeous.

Are you planning to celebrate Dia de los Muertos? Have a happy and safe Halloween!

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

Searching for Imaginary Beasties: Invisible Beasts, Half-Off Ragnarok, and Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo

22 Oct

From Big Foot to the Loch Ness Monster there are all sorts of creatures that exist in legends and myths.  My husband knows someone who claimed he saw a vampire cat in the Phillipines and even the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed in fairies.  Whether you believe that these animals of legend are hidden away or just like a good story, what better time than Halloween to track down one of these beastie books?

Half-Off Ragnarok : An InCryptid novel, by Seanan McGuire











I had written about Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series in last year’s Halloween post on Urban Fantasy series.  The first two books in the series Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue-Light Special focused on Verity Price a cryptozoologist and ballroom dancer.  In the latest novel in the InCryptid series McGuire focuses on Verity’s older brother Alexander.  The tone and humor are still familiar from the first novels, but I liked Alexander’s perspective as a cryptoherpetologist who to the ordinary world seems to be studying regular reptiles and working at a zoo in Ohio, but is actually studying the fricken (small feathered frogs) in the nearby swamps.  There is a twist with his Australian girlfriend Shelby, who also works at the zoo as a big cat trainer, which I won’t reveal but further builds on the mythology of the world that the book is set in.  The book’s main mystery is who and why someone or something is turning people into stone so there are a lot of Basilisks, Gorgons, and Cockatrices in this book, but many other creatures are featured as well including my favorite the Aeslin Mice (think the mice from Cinderella, but ultrareligious).  Since Half-Off Ragnarok focuses on Alexander rather than Verity, it feels like a fresh start, but the book reveals some of what occurred in the first two books so if you are one to avoid spoilers you may want to start with Discount Armageddon first.  In the acknowledgements McGuire mentions that the next book will also focus on Alexander.  I’m hoping that future novels may focus on more of the Price family who all seem equally quirky and endearing.  Pocket Apocalypse the next book in the series is scheduled to be released in March of next year.

Invisible Beasts: Tales of the Animals that Go Unseen Amongst Us, by Sharona Muir










Muir’s debut novel Invisible Beasts is a beautifully written guide book to unseen animals.  Unlike in the InCryptid series these animals are unseen not simply because they are hiding from humans, but because they literally can’t be seen except for a few individuals with a rare genetic ability.  Sophie, Invisible Beast’s narrator, is one of these individuals.  Since unlike her sister she is not a trained researcher her observations are less scientific and more poetic than one would find in your average guidebook (Muir is unsurprisingly a poet as well as prose writer).  Instead of drawing from the creatures of myths and legends, Muir creates original beasts.  Many of the animals such as the Truth Bats, who are disturbed by lying and give a person’s voice a ring of truth, are used as analogies for things we encounter in our day to day lives or as explanation for things such as the invisible species of possum that likes to hide missing socks or keys in its pouch.  The book also draws attention to the importance of ecological preservation beyond iconic animals like pandas or bald eagles.  I did at times wish there was more of an overarching story along with the entries about each animal.  I would enjoy seeing a sequel to Invisible Beasts that focused more on Sophie and her interaction with the visible world as well as featuring the unique creatures in the invisible one. Parts of Invisible Beasts appeared in literary magazines as individual stories and at times the work felt more like a short story collection than a novel and therefore it seemed like it wasn’t wholly necessary to read about each animal in order.  Two of my favorite “animals” were the Spiders of Theodora and the Invisible Dogs.   To learn more about Muir’s inspiration for her imaginary bestiary you can read an insightful interview on her publisher’s website.

Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zooby Mercer Mayer











Little kids love beasties and shouldn’t be left out of the hunt for incryptids.  Mercer Mayer’s Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo, was one of my favorite picture books as a kid.  My cousin had left her copy at my grandmother’s house and I always had it read to me several times whenever I stayed there.  I loved the silly bright pictures of all the made up creatures that Mayer created.  There are little hidden details on every page that make it a joy to look at.  I couldn’t resist buying a copy for my own toddler last Halloween.  This title contains many of the creatures Mayer later used in his popular Little Monsters series.  Professor Wormbog has collected monsters from A (Askinforit) to Y (Yalapappus), but he is missing the mysteries and elusive Zipperump-a-Zoo, which he can’t find on land, in the sea, or up in the trees.  Kids will love the twist ending and parents will enjoy the fun humor even as their tongues get twisted around some of the creature’s names.  Mayer has published over 300 titles for kids on everything from potty training to learning to share, but this is still my favorite.  You can find many of Mayer’s books from BCCLS libraries.

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

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