From School Library Journal
Grade 1–3—Señor Calavera, a dapper skeleton wearing a fedora and striped tie, receives an invitation to Grandma Beetle's birthday party. Zelmiro the Ghost reminds him that he needs to take a present and suggests that "the best present to give a friend is the thing she would love the most." The silent Señor Calavera collects gifts alphabetically, including an accordion (una acordeón) to make music for her, a jaguar to protect her (un jaguar), and 15 more years to add to her life (quince años). As these thoughtful gifts fill his bicycle basket to overflowing, the shimmering ghost encourages him to keep looking. When the skeleton loses control of his bike on the very hill where Zelmiro was buried, all the beautiful gifts are ruined. Grandma Beetle is blowing out her candles when the Señor finally arrives with the perfect tribute—Grandpa Zelmiro, who is a ghost no longer. Luminous, jewel-tone spreads chronicle the collection of gifts and pay homage to a rich Mexican culture. A comic book (una historieta) cleverly recalls Señor Calavera's first meeting with Grandma Beetle in Just a Minute (Chronicle, 2003). The floating, semitransparent form of Zelmiro the Ghost becomes the solidly human form of Grandpa Zelmiro, who lovingly embraces his wife. Part ghost story and part alphabet book, this trickster tale transcends both. Librarians will want to share it for the beautiful language, the spirited artwork, and the rightness of the ending.—Mary Jean Smith, Southside Elementary School, Lebanon, TN
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The title page includes an invitation to Grandma Beetle’s birthday party, and Señor Calavera can’t wait to go. A moan from beyond the grave reminds the not-too-scary dapper skeleton that he’s forgetting a present. Zelmiro the ghost admonishes Calavera to choose something that Grandma Beetle will love the most. What follows is an alphabetic array, from “Un acordeon, An accordion for her to dance to,” to “yerba buena. Good herb to soothe her day.” With each gift Calavera chooses, Zelmiro praises the skeleton’s choices but cautions him to keep searching “just in case . . .” Drenched in rich hues, the light-filled illustrations add a whimsical dimension to this trickster tale and Spanish alphabet book. When disaster strikes and all the presents fly from Calavera’s bike basket, there is nonetheless a happy ending that brings both story and alphabet to a rollicking conclusion. This companion to Morales’ award-winning Just a Minute (2003) will be a hit for storytime. Grades K-3. --Patricia Austin
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