If I could interview anyone, I would have to say Frida Kahlo would be high up of my top picks. Her beauty, paintings, and her stance of living convey a rainbow of strength I admire. A strength and independence that I would barter with any of the gods just to have a slice. Her life’s journey influenced her art, and I am grateful for it. She lived it with fervor, love, and, yes, as we all know, tragedy. Yet, she lived.
In Viva Frida written and illustrated by Yuyi (pronounced “ZHOO-Zhee”) Morales; photography by Tim O’Meara, tells a bilingual account of a creator rather than a chronological bullet points of events, which books often do: she was born, she had polio, she was seriously injured in a bus accident, painted many self-portraits, and was married to Juan Diego – twice. We’ve heard her story many times, and it’s important to know that because of her pain is when Kahlo’s paintings took on the iconic images we know today. Pain begets creativity. She gave testimony that we are capable beyond our limitations. Here is the strength I was speaking of, and Morales’ story shows that strength with a refreshing spiritual, dream-like perspective. When I saw this book I believed I was going to be reading the same archival narrative, but in picture book style. Though I was excited to read it, I was pleasantly surprised.
Morales meticulously handcrafted each character and props with mechanical armature puppets, staged the tiny sets to highlight Kahlo’s creative existence. I have added Morales’ back story of the “Making Viva Frida” in my sidebar. The mirror creation between Morales and Kahlo is also refreshing and is fantastical! Morales also uses one-line bilingual sentences, giving a simple bio making a huge impact and exemplifying Kahlo’s soulful life. In collaboration with O’Meary’s photography, the stop animation catapults the bright imagery action illuminating the book. The pages jumped out at me. What’s more, children will spend time viewing each page as there is a myriad of beautiful activity going on. There is a key, flowers, sparkling light, vivid Azul, decorated, wanting dresses, and an adorable monkey. The pages honor Frida with color and love. In telling Frida’s narrative, Morales depicts her truth this way: Frida Kahlo lived life with passion through art, unapologetically.
So as I read this book on Frida Kahlo’s birthday (July 6, 1907), Morales and Kahlo remind me, and thankfully every young reader, that we all have the ability to give something to our Earth, that we are more than an accident, we are more than a series of events or obstacles, more than what others say about us. We are here to offer, food, song, verse, love, and to give something of ourselves that will continue on giving long after we are gone. I do believe that our lives contribute to our story, to our creations, to our character, but it is not what defines us. We are created to create. “Yo Soy, I am.”
Pulbished by: Roaring Brook Press, Bilingual edition (September, 2014); Hardcover, 40 pages.
A 2015 Caldecott Honor Book
A 2015 Pura Belpré (Illustrator) Award
Available: Kidsbooks.com, $5.99