What’s El Día de los Muertos? It’s Not Scary, and It’s Not Halloween

Dia de los Muertos Dancer

A dancer performs at the Calpulli Mexican Dance Company’s annual “Dia de los Muertos” production. Photo by Kristin Slaby

Ran into this article by Kristina Puga on the CBS News Latino website. For those who aren’t familiar with Día de los Muertos or who think it’s Mexican Halloween, you might want to read it.

There seems to be a growing interest in Día de los Muertos, maybe because of the Disney movie Coco? Or my personal favorite animated feature on the subject, The Book of Life? The somewhat predictable American result? A retail bonanza: sugar skull cupcakes, framed prints, greeting cards, temporary tattoos, decorative socks, knit caps, Halloween death mask makeup kits – you name it, it’s out there.

I am American-born of Mexican, Lebanese and English descent, but in my heart, I am equal parts American and Mexican. While Mexican culture was a strong influence in my life, my family only celebrated American holidays. We did not celebrate Día de los Muertos, but I like the idea of it. I think of my loved ones who’ve passed often, but it seems like a good idea to slow down and really HONOR them and the memories they left us. What lessons did they teach us? What legacy did they leave that touches us today? What stories about them do we want to share with the next generation?

In presentations about Evangelina Takes Flight, I speak about the 3 deaths in Mexican folklore – the 1st of which is when your heart stops beating and your body ceases to function, the 2nd of which is when your body is consigned to the grave, and the 3rd and final death is when people no longer remember you – when they stop saying your name.

Día de los Muertos means your loved ones will never suffer the cruel fate of that 3rd death. It’s not a scary holiday. It’s a celebration of those we’ve loved and lost. Isn’t that beautiful?

PS: The Book of Life is a little wonky/different, but it’s shockingly creative, funny and the animation is fantastic!

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Sometimes, you just have to write what you feel.

September 14, 2019

Today you would have been

I might have teased you

Practically six decades
I would have said

I can’t remember
if I called to wish you well
the day of your birth
in that final and forty-eighth year

I hope I did

A sister’s grief
is clear
as a threatening sky
A heavy blanket of gray
with a hole here and there
for the tears to fall through

We were never close
you and I

what if

I’d tried harder
to be the sister you needed

Could we ever have been friends
You my protector and wise counsel
Me a good listener with a sunny disposition

We were never close and
all that’s left
is a cloud of regret

heavy with
what should have been

Questions about what
could have been

about why you left us
without an occasion to ever again
wish you
a happy birthday

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Writing, Revising and Disappearing Letters


Trying to get traction on the Evangelina Takes Flight sequel. While out on leave of absence due to foot surgery, I wrote 11 chapters in 2 1/2 weeks, which for me, felt almost miraculous. Since returning to work, I haven’t written any new chapters, just revised the old ones.

Hrrrmmmph! I think it’s time to stop revising (which can be a never-ending and maddening yet necessary process) and start creating again!

Here is an excerpt from one of the early chapters, in case you’re interested:

Not five minutes before I was ordered to get out, she squeezed my hand and called me a ‘godsend.’ All signs indicated a normal delivery. Doctor Morley, a man I had never seen until that day, delivered the baby boy and was present at the mother’s the death. I didn’t know until the next day when Sheriff Pearl arrived. You are hereby under arrest for witchcraft and the murder of Ramona Healy. My terrified family could do nothing but beg for an explanation and insist that it must be a mistake as he handcuffed and loaded me into the windowless police wagon and set off for the county jail. I heard my nine-year old brother, Tomás, running behind us, screaming my name. When the sound of his voice trailed off, the clip clop of the horse’s hooves, and the pounding of my heart joined together in terrifying rhythm.

PS: Can you tell which of the keys on this keyboard I use most?

PSS: I’ll probably revise the above numerous times before it goes to my publisher!

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Immersive & Experiential Learning

experiential learning

Passing along an excellent article I got wind of from my publisher, Arte Público Press. The article, by Tom Vander Ark in Forbes, chronicles the move from competencies that enable students to pass standardized tests to “immersive and experiential learning, strong guidance, a focus on success skills and becoming a contributing citizen.”

I’m no education expert, but in my view, as a mother, grandmother and YA author, this is exactly where we should be going.



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The Massacre at Porvenir

Texas Rangers

I am now busy researching and writing the sequel to Evangelina Takes Flight.  One part of history I am learning more about is the frequent and sometimes state-sanctioned barbarism and murder perpetrated against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans between 1910-1920. This article from the Associated Press characterizes the massacre in Porvenir, Texas in 1918 and many other instances of torture, lynching and terror.


For more information, please go to Refusing to Forget. From their homepage:

Between 1910 and 1920 ethnic Mexicans living on the Texas-Mexico border were targets of state-sanctioned violence. Although historians estimate that several thousand Mexican nationals and American citizens were killed, this period of violence has received little public attention.
Refusing to Forget, an educational non-profit, hopes that in bringing public awareness to this often forgotten period, we can also raise the profile of a struggle for justice and civil rights that continues to influence social relationships today.


And, speaking of the sequel, it will more definitively be young adult than middle grade. The massacre of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans will be part of the story’s political backdrop. From chapter 1:

It’s been almost four years since we arrived in Seneca, hopeful but scared. Scared for my older sister, brother-in-law and grandfather whom we left behind, scared about what life in America would hold for us, scared about how the Anglos would treat us.

I loved my stable, predictable life in Mariposa and would have lived there forever, if it had not been so dangerous to stay.

 But, if we hadn’t come here, I never would have met Doctor Taylor or Selim.

And, I wouldn’t be in the Haller County Jail accused of murder.

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LunaI had foot surgery recently and have been laid up almost completely – no pressure on the foot for 4 weeks. Given that I’ll be in this rather potato-like state for a while, I decided to hold my breath, make a wish and dive in to an Evangelina Takes Flight sequel.

I’ve had some ideas floating around my head for a sequel but didn’t have enough, or in any order to make for an entire storyline, that is, until I found myself with all this time on my hands (not on my feet).

Writing a historical fiction is a serious commitment due to the amount of research that has to be done on top of the story development and writing itself. Four chapters in and I already love where the story is leading me. And the research – the surprising and illuminating research! There’s at least one thing on every page I have to check into.

The story is set in 1914.

  • When did the position of sheriff become an elected one?
  • When did murder “by degrees” come into being?
  • What kinds of food would have been typical in southwest county jails?
  • Who was the first female Mexican-American doctor in the US and what was her journey to success like?
  • What exactly was happening in the Mexican Revolution that year?
  • Are there any cases in US history of curanderos (or “healers”) from Mexico being tried for witchcraft?
  • What would a smart-looking and not too overdone ladies hat have looked like; what would it have been made of and adorned with?
  • Were there many (if any) female reporters in the newspaper industry and what did they write about?

Evangelina Takes Flight was bestowed with some notable awards due to its historical authenticity, and I pledge to take as much care with the research on the sequel. I have so much to learn, and oh, what fun it will be!

PS: the photo is of Luna (and Diego in the background). They’ve been good company while I recuperate and type, type, type.

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The Raiders are Coming! ~Book Review~

Somehow I missed this review of Evangelina Takes Flight, posted in October 2018 on the site Books YA Love. The *reviewer did an excellent job capturing the suspenseful elements of the novel.

The raiders are coming! Evangelina Takes Flight with her family, by Diana J. Noble (book review)

book cover of Evangelina Takes Flight, by Diana J. Noble, published by Pinata Books | recommended on BooksYALove.com Pancho Villa‘s rebels are coming!
Carry what you can and flee – or be killed!
But refugees aren’t welcomed when they cross into Texas…

So much for 13-year-old Evangelina to cope with now – a girl trying to steal her suitcase on the train (with grandfather’s secret box inside!), store signs in the Texas town that say “No Mexicans” (where can they buy food?), and wondering if they can ever go home to Mexico (is anyone safe there?).

The story is set in 1911, but many things still resonate today in the borderlands.

Book info: Evangelina Takes Flight / Diana J. Noble. Pinata Books/Arte Publico Press, 2017.

My book talk: Pancho Villa and his rebel soldiers are coming? As big sister celebrates her quinceanera before the family flees their northern Mexico rancho, Evangelina worries about little Tomas’ recovering so slowly from a scorpion sting, whether grandfather can travel north with them, what they will find at her aunt’s house in Texas.

By mule wagon, with the men herding their best cattle on another trail, Evangelina’s mother gets the children to the crowded train station, but the journey onward is anything but smooth, and the Texas border town holds no welcome for refugees.

Why is wailing woman La Llorona coming into her dreams?
Will the townspeople’s prejudice keep her and Dr. Taylor from saving lives?
What is in the box grandfather gave her for safekeeping?

Evangelina might even be brave enough to attend the town meeting where rich white people are demanding that only white children can attend the school!


*Katy Manck, MLS Librarian-at-large & independent book reviewer recommends great books beyond the bestseller lists, rather than reviewing every YA book she reads.

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