Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Parents' Choice Awards : Books : Picture Books


Spring 2002 Picture Books
Ages: 4 - 10 yrs.
Author: Jonah Winter
Illustrator: Ana Juan
ISBN: 0590203207
Hardcover Price: $16.95
Seductively magical illustrations by the Spanish artist Ana Juan are enough to keep susceptible young viewers turning the pages of this undeniably beautiful picture book time and time again. A minimal text provides listeners and readers with the pivotal events in the life of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954). The wife of the celebrated Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, Frida was stricken with polio at seven; then, at eighteen, she was in a horrific bus accident that left her in pain for the rest of her life. From childhood, painting and drawing were her salvation. As author Jonah Winter put it: "She turns her pain into something beautiful. It is like a miracle." The mellow Mexican palette of illustrator Juan, the exotic characters from Mexican folk art that people the book's page, and the upbeat message of Frida's triumph over adversity will not be lost on an audience of children of all ages. (Author Winter also wrote an earlier picture book, Diego, about Frida's well-known husband.) This offbeat biography is a compelling labor of love.

Selma Lanes ©2002 Parents' Choice

Frida Kahlo, one of Mexico's best-known artists, is brought to life for children through the pathos, humor and considerable affection in Winter's story and Juan's illustrations. They describe how from a young age the artist overcame her loneliness and poor health by inventing imaginary friends and, more usefully, by drawing. Even early on, we note her trademark brow, which has been variously interpreted as a scowl masking pain, an innate self-protectiveness signaling "stay away," or simple dignity. Here, Ana Juan presents it without character interpretation. She shows her eyebrows as a flying bird. Juan approximates Kahlo's style, a synthesization of Mexican folk art, flora and fauna, the surrealism that was an emerging painting style of her time, and quite lurid biographical subject matter. Kahlo's lugubriousness is offset by whimsy, and what might have seemed an unlikely subject for a children's book proves enjoyable. As author Jonah Winter notes, "She has specifically been an inspiration to women artists, who have found in Kahlo's strength, courage, and pizzazz an example of how to thrive as a woman in an art world dominated by men."

Ina Rimpau   ©2002 Parents' Choice

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