Children’s book honors family pets on Dia De Los Muertos

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Award-winning picture book author Xelena González’s latest book tells the story of a family remembering a beloved dog that has passed by incorporating Dia De Los Muertos traditions.

This is González’s third book she has written alongside book illustrator Adriana Garcia. Their previous books were successful, and as they thought of what stories to tell next, González and Garcia both lost longtime family pets, which inspired them to write the book.

“We were both celebrating these individual successes, personal successes in our art, and then also had these hard losses,” González said. “Quite often a pet loss is the first real loss that a child will experience, and children are a big part of the audience for picture books.”

González said Dia De Los Muertos is celebrated over two days depending on traditions and what part of Mexico someone is from. The first day is reserved for the innocents. That innocence represents children and pets.

“I’ve long felt that Dia De Los Muertos and the customs behind it is one of the best gifts that the indigenous Mexican culture has to offer, humanity at large,” González said. “Death is something that we all face, and I feel quite often in our Western or American society, we fear it, and we run from it, and we are afraid to talk about it, and we’re afraid to talk to children about it. But it’s a part of the bigger circle. It’s a part of that cycle.”

González said when she lost her cat, she built an ofrenda, an altar to honor and mourn her pet. She placed her cat’s favorite toy and a cardboard box which her cat loved. The child in the book has long hair and was modeled after a young boy Garcia knew, but everyone assumes the child is a girl.

“It’s come up, and people will ask, right? And it’s interesting because it’s like, ‘Does it matter?’ Because grief is grief and loss is loss. It’s an unintended thing that has come up but a good thing especially as we explore some of those changing terms and dynamics,” González said.

Xelena González, storyteller, poet and author

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