Thursday, October 16, 2014

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

A young woman searches.

She sees.

She explores.

And finally, she creates.

This beautiful picture book about Frida Kahlo is not so much a biography as it is a living, breathing poem that celebrates her artistry and creativity. The colorful photographs of puppets that evolve into dreamlike paintings later in the story, add to the poetry of images and language. The delightful Niño Wrestles the World was my first foray into Yuyi Morales's work, and now that I've witnessed Viva Frida's as well as Niño's artistic genius, I am convinced that someone needs to give Morales a Caldecott already. It's likely not to be for Viva Frida since the question of whether to include the photographer, Tim O'Meara, as a contributing artist complicates the question of whether he would be included as one of the winners, but I've decided that eventually this woman needs to win the most prestigious award for children's book illustration.

Viva Frida gave me chills and a lump in my throat when I read it. I know others have criticized it for not giving enough insight into Frida Kahlo's life in the story itself, but to me, this book is so much bigger than just a biography of a famous artist. As I mentioned above, it felt like I was witnessing a living, breathing poem and I was utterly enchanted. I think the open-endedness of the text also intrigues readers enough to want to go out and learn more about Kahlo's life. I know it did for me.  

I discussed the book with my 8th graders to get their opinions, and many of them felt that, despite the fact that younger kids might not understand everything that is happening in the text and illustrations, it still has facets that are appealing to kids (minimal text, bright illustrations that call them to use their imaginations). And yet, despite the text's spare simplicity, it is still a very complex book, which is an observation one of my astute 8th graders made and it was right on the money. To quote another one of my 8th graders, it is a book "you have to read with your heart, not your eyes."

With the plea for more diversity in children's literature this year, the multicultural and multilingual aspects of Viva Frida - with text in both English and Spanish - also make this an important book to have on our classroom and library shelves. 

Watch this video to witness the beautiful and complicated process behind the making of Viva Frida:

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
Published: September 2, 2014
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Pages: 40
Genre: Picture Book
Audience: Primary, Middle Grade, Young Adult...
Disclosure: Library Copy 

If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound


  1. Wonderful review that captures what makes this book so special. It's one of my favorites of the year, and a big YES to a Caldecott for Yuyi Morales.

  2. Thanks for sharing that video. What an amazing process. I must go find this book!

  3. My breath caught as I experienced this book for the first time. I love, love, love it and like you, I think that she should be getting that Caldecott call one of these years. She is amazing. She pours so much emotion into her illustrations. They pulse with it. Excellent review!