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Thursday, October 2, 2014

VIVA Frida, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. Photography by Tim O'Meara. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2014. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"I wasn't always taken by Frida. When I was younger, I often found her paintings tortuous and difficult to understand. The more I learned about Frida's life, the more her paintings began to take on new light for me. I finally saw what had terrified me..."

You need to know that 'the art for this book was made with stop-motion puppets made from steel, polymer clay, and wool, acrylic paints, photography, and digital manipulation.' The description is in itself inspiring; you cannot likely imagine how spectacular the artwork itself is. Some of the media used is seen on the title page; colorful and displayed to inspire careful consideration before opening to the book's first page. The photography is exceptional. That is exactly why you need this book for your collection!

The text is spare. Written in two languages, the English words stand out in a bold black text while the Spanish ones are faint and quietly elegant. If you have read anything about Frida Kahlo, or are familiar with her art (including her many self portraits), you will recognize her from the moment she appears on the first page. Her quiet smile, the stunning bold colors of Mexico, the silver jewellery, a tiny bright parrot. They are perfectly placed on each spread, inviting readers to move from page to page.

Frida holds a golden yellow box that is locked. Her monkey has the key to its secrets. When the key is passed to the artist, the monkey is her partner in discovery. What they find makes for great entertainment, and then the need for a sleep to dream. That dream helps Frida realize that it is her art, her life's work, that makes that life worthwhile.

In a dual language author's note, Ms. Morales speaks of her admiration for Frida. She gives a short biographical glimpse at an artist whose work expressed 'the things she felt, feared, and wanted.' She was a prolific artist:

"It is thought that during her lifetime, Frida created 143 paintings, 55 of which were self-portraits. She would study her reflection in the mirror and paint herself wearing elaborate jewelry or crowned with enormous braids, ribbons, and flowers."

This homage to the artist is a lovely entry point for a young audience into a life that was fraught with tragedy, but also with much laughter and delight.

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