Art triumphs over tragedy
Here is a WOW of a biography! When my Spanish teacher-friend picked up this book about Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, he said, incredulously, "A picture book about Frida Kahlo? Her life was so tragic! Incredible!" Yes, her life was in many ways tragic, but it was also amazing, and so is Frida. A wonderful introduction to the famous painter for young readers (ages five to eight), this book is a beauty that adults will also enjoy.
Lyrical and inspired, the text of Frida is written in the present tense, offering the reader immediacy and closeness to the subject. Artist Ana Juan depicts baby Frida on a dragon, flowing across a double-page spread. Working with acrylics and wax on paper, she presents page after brilliant page of folk-art images and scenes from Kahlo's life: sunlight streaming through doorways, jaguars at play, grinning skeletons.
As Jonah Winter's note confirms, Kahlo was stricken with polio at the age of seven and, later, was in a terrible bus accident. It's a miracle she survived and went on to paint, but paint she did, becoming famous for her self portraits and folk art andespeciallyfor triumphing over her pain. With fellow artist and husband Diego Rivera, she experienced a love that filled her heart even as it brought its own measure of pain. Kahlo's enormous strength and her fierce will to live and create are wonderfully depicted. Both Winter and Juan capture her spirit, as well as the worlds she inhabited in her head and created on the canvas.
Full of energy, Frida flows from beginning to end, from darkness to light, from pain to joy. "She turns her pain into something beautiful. It is like a miracle," writes Winter. Yes, and this is a little miracle of a book, an amazing marriage of art, text and risk-taking that works well as an introduction to Kahlo's life, and as a way to talk to youngsters about how art can help us survive pain, fear and loss. That art can help us define the human spirit is a lesson no reader is too young to learn, and Frida is the perfect teacher.
Deborah Wiles is the author of Freedom Summer and Love, Ruby Lavender.