Just in Case



Friendly Day of the Dead skeleton knows his ABCs.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Children who aren't familiar with Mexican traditions will be interested to see a different way to look at death. Senor Calavera isn't scary in the book. Also, kids who don't speak Spanish may pick up some Spanish vocabulary in this alphabet book.

Positive messages

Like all trickster tales, this book celebrates ingenuity and creative thinking.

Positive role models

Both Senor Calavera and Zelmiro want Grandma Beetle to have a wonderful birthday and work hard to find her the perfect gift.

Violence & scariness

Though the skeleton is very friendly, it may scare kids at first glance.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that kids who find Halloween too creepy might need some background to understand why the skeleton isn't really a bad guy and why people don't seem to be afraid of him. Kids who are already familiar with the Day of the Dead may need less hand-holding. Also, parents might want to read the book first to check if Zelmiro's transformation is something they'll want to address with kids.

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What's the story?

Senor Calavera wants to go to his friend Grandma Beetle's birthday party but he's forgotten to get her a gift! With help from ghostly Zelmiro, he gathers an alphabetical list of special presents, but how will he know if they are what Grandma Beetle really wants?

Is it any good?


Kids will like the repetitive sway of this traditionally minded trickster tale and they'll love the happy ending. There's lots to talk about for families who want to dig in and discuss cultural ideas about death, but kids can also just read it for the fun of it. It may just be the most lighthearted look at death you'll find for the picture book set.

Rich, colorful, award-winning illustrations give added depth to a story that might otherwise run a little long for kids with short attention spans. It's worth reading for the pictures alone, which are carefully drafted and full of fine details.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Day of the Dead festivities. Learn more about the Day of the Dead and talk about how it's different from the other traditions around death.

  • Kids can retell the story using their own ABC list.

  • For the letter Q, Senor Calavera chooses "Quince anos" and the illustration is a girl in a fancy party dress. If your children aren't familiar with Quinceaneras -- the Mexican coming of age ritual for teenage girls -- head to the library to learn more.

  • Senor Calavera is worried about missing the pinatas at the party! Kids might want to make their own out of paper mache and balloons. Look online for pinata instructions.

  • If kids don't know how to pronounce Senor Calvera, give them a hand: "seh NYOUR caw la VER ah!"

Book details

Author:Yuyi Morales
Illustrator:Yuyi Morales
Genre:Picture Book
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Roaring Brook Press
Publication date:October 14, 2008
Number of pages:40
Read aloud:4
Read alone:8

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