Frida - Thao Lam
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It is impossible to detach the life of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo from her paintings. Her work is a visual biography of her life, one beset with one painful ordeal after another. Keep reading…

Born in July 6, 1907, Kahlo contracted polio at the age of 6, which affected the development of her right leg. Then, at the age of 18, she suffered serious injuries when the trolley car she was riding on collided with a car. She was left with a broken collarbone, a broken pelvis, a broken spinal cord, broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder; her right leg was fractured in 11 places and her right foot was crushed. The iron railing on the trolley pierced her abdomen and uterus, which hindered her ability to have children later on in life.

Kahlo had a remarkable strength. Although she recovered and eventually regained her ability to walk, she would be plagued with severe pain for the rest of her life and was often bedridden for months at a time. While immobilized, she painted to occupy her time. Using vibrant colours, she painted self-portraits and filled them with folk art icons from Mexican culture, using symbolism and surrealism to articulate and channel her pain into her paintings. Kahlo was once quoted, “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

I think it is amazing that so much beauty can come out of such pain. Some might think that the subject of pain would be to much for child to grasp and would be difficult portray in a picture book, but I think Frida written by Jonah Winter and illustrated Ana Juan was handled very well. In a way, they took a subject that was dark and difficult and turned it into a poetic and visually stunning book.

Winter was able to capture the life story of Kahlo, but also remind us that not all the things that were in Kahlo‘s life were ugly, not her spirit or her art. The story is a reminder that we can’t control what happens to us in life, but we can control how we react to it and that is a very valuable lesson to learn for both children and adults alike.

The illustrations were created in appreciation and in reflection of the characters and colours from Kahlo‘s paintings and her Mexican culture. Juan’s sensitivity and choice of colours help create a mood for the passage of Kahlo‘s life; her childhood was painted in vibrant colours, but the colours matured and darkened as Kahlo‘s faces her ordeals. The cute depiction of Kahlo as a child with her famous unibrow on the front cover was what made me pick up the book, it’s such a trademark of hers. Juan’s adorable characters strike a great balance between the painful subject matter and the fact that it is a children’s book. They are also a perfect way to introduce the reader to the symbolic iconography and culture of Mexico. These iconic characters remind me of childhood imaginary friends, loyal, mischievous and sympathetic to the ordeals in our lives.

Frida, a children’s book review by Thao Lam




Author Jonah Winter

Jonah Winter has had a long history of writing picture book biographies. In fact, it was while creating the picture book for Mexican muralist Diego Rivera that he discovered Diego’s wife Frida Kahlo was an accomplish artist, too. Winter was born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1962. From an early age, Winter loved to paint, play musical instruments, write and collect baseball cards.

To read more on Jonah Winter, please visit his website:

Illustrator Ana Juan

Inspired by Frida’s Kahlo’s paintings, Ana Juan filled the illustrations within Frida with folk art symbolic characters from the Mexican culture. Devils, jaguars, monkeys and skeletons are depicted using acrylic and wax on paper. The illustrations are saturated with colour.

Like Frida, Juan spent her childhood drawing and painting. Her favorite and most influential children’s book growing up was The One Thousand and One Nights.

To read more on Ana Juan, please visit her website:

Publisher Arthur A. Levine Books (Feb 1 2002)

ISBN-10 0590203207

ISBN-13 978-0590203203