Mayeros: A Yucatec Maya Family // Pablo Remembers: The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead

author: George Ancona
photographer: George Ancona
Lothrop, 1997
grades 3-5 

The family in Mayeros is related to George Ancona through his mother. Here, he writes with love of family, knowledge of history, and accuracy that can only come from a personal relationship.

Ancona’s photographs are stunning, clear and natural, and respectful of their subjects. He transmits a sense of history and continuation of a strong and vibrant culture in a very interesting way: inserted into a photo of his Yucatec relatives in front of their house is a photo of a carving of an almost identical house over the entrance to a temple at Uxmal; right next to a drawing on an old Mayan dish of a woman making tortillas on a metate is Doña Satulina grinding spices on a stone metate; an ancient Mayan drawing of a god using a planting stick to plant maize is next to a photo of Don Elias planting in the same way; and next to a photo of Armando carrying firewood using a tumpline is a reproduction of a Mayan calendar figure using a tumpline.

Ancona ends his book by showing his nephews back at school after working on the milpa and spending a week at festival, studying hard, not only for their future, but because their people have always valued education. This he demonstrates with an illustration of a Mayan scribe drawing on a codex, from a painting on a vase. Ancona makes sure the reader knows the Maya had a complete and rich library—thousands of years of history, science, and legend—which the Spanish burned in an attempt to destroy their books and language and thus destroy their culture. As Ancona shows, their attempt failed.

author: George Ancona 
photographer: George Ancona
Lothrop, 1993
grades 3-5 
Mexican American

All elementary and middle school teachers in America should have Pablo Remembers on their shelves, ever at the ready to pull out at the end of September. That would give them a full month to prepare their students to understand and participate in el Día de los Muertos, beautifully defined in George Ancona's photojournalistic essay.

The photographs of a healthy, happy, confident Mexican family show solidarity with the past in a way I have seldom seen. Ancona does not poke fun at the idea of dead relatives coming to visit; rather, he puts it in perspective: “For Pablo, this year's celebration is especially important. His abuelita, his grandmother, died two years ago and he misses her very much. But through the loving intimacy of the fiesta, he knows he will celebrate her memory again and again throughout his life.”

Ancona also gives historical background, tracing this festival, or fiesta, back to ancient Egyptian times, then to Rome and Spain, and to this hemisphere, where “the celebration of the Day of the Dead grew from the blending of Aztec beliefs about death with Catholic beliefs that the Spanish conquistadors brought to the people of Mexico.” Both books are highly recommended.

—Judy Zalazar Drummond
(published 4/13/13)

These reviews first appeared in A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children, edited by Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin (AltaMira Press, 2005). We thank the publisher for permission.

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