Our young reader's worlds are enhanced by the introduction of creative expression from all cultures. Every person has a story to tell. How they tell it is as unique as they are. Mexican artist Frida Kahlo told her story through painting. Pura Belpre Medal and Honor award winning author illustrator Yuyi Morales has written and illustrated Viva Frida (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press), a stunning tribute and introduction to Frida Kahlo. Her husband, Timothy O'Meara, is the photographer.
So begins the text in this title. There are never more than four words in English or seven words in Spanish on any two pages. Depending on the individual reader their eyes may be drawn to the more cursive silver gray text in Spanish or to the English in a bolder black font beneath it.
We first learn of Frida Kahlo's desire to seek, then notice. Her discoveries would often lead to play dictated by her personality. Her knowledge and her dreams grew her compassion. She came to realize that in loving and creating she was most alive.
Yuyi Morales uses very explicit verbs to describe Frida Kahlo; words like search, see, know, dream and understand. By limiting the number used with each illustration she is asking us to look closely at each picture. The pictures interpret the word in the context of her life but also when linked together give a more complete portrayal of the essence of Frida Kahlo.
Intricate visuals rendered in stop-motion puppets made from steel, polymer clay, and wool, acrylic paints, photography and digital manipulation begin on the front of the dust jacket, continuing throughout with the exception of the dream sequence. At this point Yuyi Morales uses her painting exclusively. The opening and closing endpapers are done in a pattern of large blue, red, magenta and gold flowers on a brushed, varied golden tan background.
The double-page picture for the title page starts Morales' story of Frida Kahlo's world. We see a close-up of an artist's work space; bottles of ink, traditional delicate cut paper work, tubes of paint on a palette, brushes tied together with yarn, a scroll of paper unrolled, a charcoal sketch of puppet Frida and in the upper portion of the page part of a monkey's head, its hand reaching for a key on the table. With a page turn a soft blue sky with powder puff clouds stretches behind a beautiful view of Frida's face framed with a few green leaves and ornate silver (metal) butterflies. To the right a parrot takes flight.
As the narrative continues we, as does Frida, see the monkey on a tree branch with the key. A small yellow chest is at her feet. Behind her Diego Rivera, her husband, glances over his shoulder. Her dog is running toward the tree. This second illustration in the book tells us much about this woman. We learn of her pets, her spouse, her signature clothing, and her ability to discover.
The artistry of Yuyi Morales in these first two illustrations (and every single one which follows) is breathtaking. Her skill in working with fabrics, lace, embroidery, the placement of tiny jewelry, flowers in Frida's hair, the buttons and clasps on Diego's overalls, and the tiny facial features on the people and animals is wondrous. The four pages dedicated to the dream are infused with the same emotion as her other visuals even though her medium shifts.
One of my favorite visuals is of Frida, key in hand, her monkey and dog peering inside the opened chest. We see them as if we are the puppet inside looking at them. It's a glowing close-up.
Viva Frida written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales with photography by Tim O'Meara is a glorious biographical introduction to an iconic Mexican artist. It will spark discussion, further inquiry and appreciation. Having earned a Spanish minor in college, my students have heard me frequently use words and simple phrases. Reading the text in Spanish first followed by the English creates a marvelous melody. Yuyi Morales has included a short detailed illustrated biography of Frida Kahlo in English and Spanish at the end of the book. It is followed by another completed illustration which was being painted earlier. Gorgeous....simply gorgeous.
Please follow the link embedded in Yuyi Morales' name to access her personal website. This link takes you to an insightful interview about her at Publishers Weekly relative to this title and her life, Yuyi Morales: PW Talks with the Award-Winning Illustrator. Here is an interview from November 12, 2013 at Juana Children's Illustrator. These two links, here, here, and here, take you to TeachingBooks.net where Yuyi Morales pronounces her name with an explanation, speaks on a Viva Frida Meet-The-Author Book Reading and there is a Meet-The-Author video. UPDATE: Please enjoy the new beautiful video below about the making of this book. UPDATE: Yuyi Morales stopped by Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast on October 27, 2014 to provide a photo essay about the making of this book.
I hope you will stop by Kid Lit Frenzy to view the other titles listed by participating bloggers in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator and blogger, Alyson Beecher.
My review of this title is based upon an Advance Reader's Edition received from my favorite independent bookstore, McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan. I hope you will purchase a copy from your nearest independent bookstore or visit your local public library.