Viva Frida: A Beautiful and Unusual Children’s Book Celebrating Frida Kahlo’s Story and Spirit
The story of creative culture’s most uncommon Alice in a luminous Wonderland of her own making.
By Maria Popova
Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (July 6, 1907–July 13, 1954) was a woman of vibrantly tenacious spirit who overcame an unfair share of adversity to become one of humanity’s most remarkable artists and a wholehearted human being out of whom poured passionate love letters and compassionate friend-letters.
The polio she contracted as a child left her right leg underdeveloped — an imperfection she’d later come to disguise with her famous colorful skirts. As a teenager, having just become one of only thirty-five female students at Mexico’s prestigious Preparatoria school, Kahlo was in a serious traffic accident that sent an iron rod through her stomach and uterus. She spent three months in a full-body cast and even though the doctors didn’t believe it possible, she willed her way to walking again. Although the remainder of her life was strewn with relapses of extreme pain, frequent hospital visits, and more than thirty operations, that initial recovery period was a crucial part of her creative journey.
True to Roald Dahl’s conviction that illness emboldens creativity, Kahlo made her first strides in painting while bedridden, as a way of occupying herself, painting mostly her own image. Today, she remains best-known for her vibrant self-portraits, which comprise more than a third of her paintings, blending motifs from traditional Mexican art with a surrealist aesthetic. Above all, she became a testament to the notion that we can transcend external limitations to define our scope of possibility.
Kahlo’s singular spirit and story spring to life in the immeasurably wonderful Viva Frida (public library) by writer/illustrator Yuyi Morales and photographer Tim O’Meara.
In simple, lyrical words and enchanting photo-illustrations, this dreamlike bilingual beauty tells the story of an uncommon Alice in a luminous Wonderland of her own making.
Morales, who painstakingly handcrafted all the figurines and props and staged each vignette, writes in the afterword:
When I think of Frida Kahlo, I think of orgullo, pride. Growing up in Mexico, I wanted to know more about this woman with her mustache and unibrow. Who was this artist who had unapologetically filled her paintings with old and new symbols of Mexican culture in order to tell her own story?
I wasn’t always so 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 that what had terrified me about Frida’s images was actually her way of expressing the things she felt, feared, and wanted.
Her work was proud and unafraid and introduced the world to a side of Mexican culture that had been hidden from view.
As a child, while learning to draw, I would often study my own reflection in the mirror and think about Frida. Did she know how many artists she influenced with her courage and her ability to overcome her own limitations?
Here is a behind-the-scenes look at Morales’s process that only intensifies the project’s magic:
Viva Frida, which is immensely beautiful from cover to cover, joins the canon of inspired picture-book biographies of cultural icons like Jane Goodall, Henri Matisse, Pablo Neruda, Henri Rousseau, Julia Child, Albert Einstein, Ibn Sina, and Maria Merian.
Published March 25, 2015