Traditions and Tributes: An Interview with Ana Aranda

We love picture books at Parnassus, and with Day of the Dead approaching, we can’t think of a better person to talk to than Ana Aranda, author and illustrator of Our Day of the Dead Celebration! Our Director of Books and Events for Young Readers, Rae Ann Parker, chatted with Ana about her new book and her creative process. Orders for Our Day of the Dead Celebration will come with a signed bookplate while supplies last. Want to share this beautiful book with someone who celebrates Day of the Dead but doesn’t live in the US? No problem! We ship internationally.

Ana Aranda | Photo by Rachel Styer

Rae Ann Parker: Congratulations on your beautiful upcoming picture book, Our Day of the Dead Celebration. This book is a tribute to your childhood celebrations in Mexico. What is the biggest inspiration for the book and how did the story develop?

Ana Aranda: Thank you so much for having me here! I’ve always been fascinated by the Day of the Dead celebration and how, as Mexicans, we view death. I wanted to create a book to celebrate this day, those who left before us, and my family. It started as a simple story on how a family celebrates the day and the different elements in it, based on traditions and stories from my family. With every draft, more layers started coming out. I am very blessed to have worked with my editor, Nancy Paulsen, who helped so much in finding the heart of the story.

I wanted the book to have some of the Day of the Dead elements such as marigold flowers, sugar skulls, papel picado, pan de muerto, calaveritas poems, cooking the departed’s favorite dishes, and altars — but at the same time to have another layer of why it is that we do all of this. Why we remember and why it is important to remember.

RAP: This book is about holiday traditions and family connections. What do you hope readers experience when sharing this book with someone special?

AA: I hope that readers can also relate and think about things that make their experience unique and special. I also want to share a little bit of my love for Mexico, hoping that especially Mexican children and families can enjoy and see themselves in the book.

RAP: You have illustrated picture books and created murals. How do you approach each project differently? Or do you? How did you create the artwork for this book?

AA: Every project has its own way of working, and for every work I like to create little games for it. I think that looking for that play element is very important for me, and in this book, it was present in many stages. It all started way before I knew that this book would exist, since 2008 when I started creating many images for the Day of the Dead.

When the book was sold and I was doing research, it involved a trip to Pátzcuaro in Michoacán, Mexico, where I was very interested in their Day of the Dead traditions. It also involved going to many museums in Mexico, talking with family members about departed loved ones, requesting pictures of departed loved ones in my family and friends that are family. While creating the art, I tried using all of that to honor the departed and to honor this very special day. Some of the pictures that I took in Pátzcuaro helped to create the setting in the book, and some pictures from home and from departed loved ones and what they loved also appeared in the book. For example, my grandfather’s accordion, my grandmother’s cookies, old pictures and frames, decorations and more details are part of the book.

One of the buried paintings

While researching the technique for the book I was looking for a way to visually convey the passage of time. I started doing paintings and experiments based on old pictures from my family in different papers. I buried the paintings in my friend’s garden, and I would go check on them every week and water them. Some of the textures were amazing although many paintings didn’t make it after a couple weeks. Ultimately, I didn’t end up using this technique or textures for the book, but I very much enjoyed the idea and process of watering paintings and allowing nature to take over. Color also played an important part in the process and I decided to use concentrated inks, watercolor, gouache and pink Himalayan salt to get saturated colors and different textures.

RAP: You illustrated Moth and Butterfly: Ta Da! and The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra written by other authors. How was the creation of this book a different experience since you were both author and illustrator?

It was a lot more complicated than I thought but very cathartic! I wasn’t sure if I was someone who wrote with pictures or needed to write in text and then make pictures for the story to unfold. In the end it was a little bit of both and I really enjoyed the process and the many turns that the story took until becoming whole and ready.

RAP: And finally, we ask everyone, what’s your favorite thing about indie bookstores?

AA: They feel like home!

Our Day of the Dead Celebration is on our shelves now. Signed bookplates are available while supplies last!

Our Day of the Dead Celebration By Ana Aranda, Ana Aranda (Illustrator) Cover Image