Allison's Book Bag

Homage to Paper Mache

Posted on: September 22, 2014

All of author Cynthia Weill’s work uses folk arts from around the world to illustrate basic concepts for young readers. Her newest book, My Skeleton Family/Mi Familia Calaca, was a collaboration with Mexican artisan, Jesus Canseco Zarate. This book was recently awarded the designation, “Junior Library Guild Selection for Fall 2013.” It’s also one of my multicultural review selections for this week. Tomorrow I’ll review it. Save the date: September 23!



I’ve always been interested in the work of artisans in developing nations. It gives me great pleasure to partner with these wonderful craftspeople and see them recognized for their lifetime achievement.—Cynthia Weill

Holding a Doctorate in Education, Weill has worked as a Spanish teacher and in humanitarian assistance. She’s also trained as an art historian.

Weill has been fascinated with Oaxacan crafts since 1996 when she taught in Mexico through the Fulbright exchange. Her books employ handicrafts commissioned from artisans in Oaxaca, Mexico, to teach children colors, numbers, opposites, and the alphabet in Spanish and English.

When she presents at schools, she focuses on how to use my books to enhance language development in Spanish and English for young children. Another favorite is talking about her experiences of working collaboratively and inter-culturally with artisans.


SkeletonMy Skeleton Family/Mi Familia Calac features a beloved and humorous symbol of Mexico. Wikipedia says that the skeleton is most commonly used for decoration during the Mexican Day of the Dead festival, although they are also made all year round. Tracing their origins from Aztec imagery, skeletons are frequently shown with marigold flowers and foliage. Moreover, they are generally depicted as joyous rather than mournful figures. For that reason, Mexican skeletons wear festive clothing, dance, and play musical instruments to indicate a happy afterlife. This draws on the Mexican belief that no dead soul likes to be thought with remorse and that death should be a joyous occasion. You can find more information online at Day of the Dead.

In addition, My Skeleton Family/Mi Familia Calac is an homage to Mexico’s long history of paper mache. Author Cynthia Weill met paper artisan Jesus Canseco Zarate in Oaxaca. There, he had submitted his skeletons to a contest at the Museum of Popular Arts, where he won one of the big prizes.

According to Weill’s Powerpoint, Jesus Canseco Zarate was able to document his process through a webcam. He used paper mache, a process that was brought to Mexico by the Spanish in the 15th century. The two discussed each figure through e-mail. Jesus Canseco Zarate spent a month on each skeleton bringing it to life by hand.


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