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MOWMT March 22: Mariana Ríos Ramírez Shares Tradition and Culture



Sharing Tradition and Culture Through Picture Books

by Mariana Ríos Ramírez


As an author of children’s books, some of my favorite topics to write about are those related to tradition and culture. We live in a world in which we’re constantly interacting with people who have different values, languages, and traditions to our own. The same happens to children; and I strongly believe the more kids get to know about what makes them similar and different from others; the more they will respect and value one another and will grow up in an environment of inclusion, diversity, and harmony.


For these reasons, I selected today’s topic to be Sharing Tradition and Culture through Picture Books. The mentor texts I’ve chosen for this post are great examples on how to do this successfully and in a way that’s engaging and kid friendly; while children also get to learn about other countries, languages, and celebrations.


LA NOCHE BEFORE THREE KINGS DAY Written by Sheila Colón-Bagley and illustrated by Alejandro Mesa, this book was published on September 12th, 2023 by Harper Collins. 


Inspired by Clement Clarke Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas” this story shows how a family in Puerto Rico celebrates Three Kings Day through rhyming dual-lingual text. Sheila did a great job in using a well-known story and adapting it to a different holiday and culture. The Spanish sprinkled throughout makes the book more authentic and provides another layer of value. 


Children not only learn about Three Kings Day through the text, but also through the images that highlight the most important elements and details of this holiday. For example, in the next image there’s a big family getting ready for the celebration (typical for Latin America), although the text doesn’t specify that. 




As in many other celebrations, food has a very important role and we get to learn names of typical Puerto Rican dishes and desserts like maduros, tostones or flan. The story also shows what families normally do during this celebration, including decorating shoe boxes that later will be filled with candies and toys by the Three Kings. 


For readers not familiar with this tradition, additional information plus a glossary are included in the back matter. 



Written and illustrated by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom, this book was published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on October 3rd, 2023. It celebrates the tradition of Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) in Latin America. Something special about this book is that it introduces different elements of the celebration while counting to twelve and then back down again in Spanish



In this way, every number represents a holiday element or a special moment of Noche Buena’s celebration. For example: “1 – Una familia brimming with joy,” or “10 - Diez chiquitines rip and unwrap.” 


This book includes words in Spanish (with a glossary at the end), as well as references to traditional food, music, dance and family connections. 



Written by Namita Moolani Mehra and illustrated by Kamala Nair this beautiful book was published by Two Lions on September 26th, 2023. The story follows Diya, a girl who travels to India for Diwali, the Festival of Lights. This trip offers the chance of visiting Nani (grandma), who Diya hasn’t seen since her family moved away.


As Diya goes back to India, she experiences the traditions around Diwali, like visiting a bazaar, cooking traditional food (ladoos, jalebi), wearing a sari, etc. The enchanting illustrations give readers a glimpse of India’s architecture, clothing, family relationships, and the beauty of the festival. However, this book also focuses on the relationship between Diya and Nani and how Diya feels she belongs in India, while she’s scared of going back to her new home. 


A glossary, an author’s note (religious background of the festival), and a Diwali affirmation are included in the back matter. 



Written and illustrated by Natasha Khan Kazi, this book was published by Harper Collins on February 28th, 2023. The story follows the moon as it witnesses how people in different countries celebrate Ramadan with fasting, good deeds, prayers, henna tattoos, food and more. A third person narrator describes what the moon sees, listens and smells


What makes this book even more special is that it blends glimpses of different countries' celebrations with the corresponding phases of the moon, adding an interesting layer.


An author’s note explaining the importance of Ramadan for the Muslim community, information about the lunar cycle and phases of the moon, as well as an extensive Ramadan glossary are part of the back matter. 



Written by me and illustrated by Sara Palacios, Abuelita’s Gift: A Día de Muertos story will be published by Knopf on September 2024 and will also be available in Spanish. The story follows Julieta, a Mexican girl whose Abuelita (grandma) recently passed away, and now she wants to find a way to honor her at the ofrenda during Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). 



In this book readers go to México, where Julieta has been raised immersed in the culture and folklore of Día de Muertos tradition, which is shown through the text and gorgeous illustrations. Readers get to join Julieta’s family as they set up an ofrenda, prepare traditional food (arroz, mole, tamales) and visit La Feria de Día de Muertos. However, the love and connection between Julieta and Abuelita is the true heart of this book. So, this is a heartwarming story that happens on Día de Muertos; but it’s message is so much more. 


Back matter includes a glossary, an author’s note (with additional info on how the tradition is celebrated), and an ofrenda diagram highlighting its most common elements.


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I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the holidays and traditions included in this picture book selection as much as I did. Each book truly enchants readers through the warmth of their stories, the beauty of their illustrations, and the unique elements of the celebrations they feature. If you want to study more mentor texts, I recommend checking out these additional books: An Ofrenda for Perro, The Night Before Eid: A Muslim Family Story, Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!, Dreams of Green: A Three Kings Day Story.


As you can see, there are several effective alternatives to include tradition, language, and culture in your manuscripts. However, what matters most is that the story feels authentic, that you research thoroughly and that you add heart to your pages. 


Prize: One winner will get a 30-minute AMA session. 


BIO Mariana Ríos Ramírez is a Mexican author living in Anderson, South Carolina with her husband, two kids and a Chihuahua dog named Rogers. She received a degree in international business from Tecnológico de Monterrey (México) and an MBA degree in Tecnológico de Monterrey and Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, USA. Before becoming a children’s book author she worked as a high school teacher for seven years and co-owned an online business of customized party decorations. Mariana is a member of SCBWI, Storyteller Academy, Las Musas, and Rate your Story. 


Santiago’s Dinosaurios is her debut picture book and was published by Albert Whitman & Company on October 27th, 2022. Abuelita’s Gift: A Día de Muertos Story will be published by Knopf on September 2024. A Spanish version will be available too (El Regalo de Abuelita: Un Cuento de Día de Muertos). Besides writing, Mariana enjoys photography, singing, traveling, watching k-dramas, and spending time with family and friends. She also loves flowers, dogs, Mexican and Asian food, and Chai Lattes. 


Instagram/Threads: @marianariosr



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