Frida is a children’s picture book published in 2008 by Jonah Winter that is a playful, insightful tribute to one of the twentieth century’s most influential artists. Artists have the ability to perceive life in a deeper sense than what is being physically being presented in their artwork. Frida Kahlo went through life challenges that could not compare to others’. Though this is true, she was still able to use aspects of her life in her artwork to resonate with viewers by showing them that if she was able to get through her situations, than anyone can get through their own. Jonah Winter expresses Frida’s view of the world with the drawings of her imaginary friends and showing how Frida was always painting, and this leads children and adults to find something that makes life’s troubles manageable.
Frida was written about one of Mexico’s well known artists, Frida Kahlo. Frida Kahlo is honored in Mexico because of her focus on the Mexican culture in her paintings. According to fridakahlo.org, She is also praised by feminists because of her portrayal of the female experience through art(Frida Kahlo and Her Paintings 1). Frida Kahlo’s paintings are easily recognizable due to the vibrant colors being used, and her introspective self portraits. Frida’s self portraits are seen as her best work because they display pain and passion. Her own life experiences are the main theme in her paintings, and these paintings are easily able to tell that story of her life. One would think that for someone to go through such traumatizing experiences, that they would give up, or that they would be miserable, but Frida Kahlo focused on painting, not her pain. She was able to turn that pain into beautiful art. For example, Frida Kahlo almost died in a bus accident when she was eighteen years old . She used painting as her escape to deal with both the physical and mental pain.
This accident influenced her painting, “The Broken Column”, where “she is nearly naked, split down the middle, with her spine presented as a broken decorative column”(Fridakahlo.org 4). Frida was also diagnosed with polio which meant her right leg was shorter and thinner than her left leg. On Frida Kahlo’s biography page it states, “Her physical and emotional pain are depicted starkly on canvases, as is her turbulent relationship with her husband, fellow artist Diego Rivera, who she married twice”(Frida Kahlo and Her Paintings 3). Frida went through a very hard childhood and through many traumatizing experiences such as her health problems, but was able to go through it because as it refer to in the picture book, “Painting is like her imaginary friend”(Winter 19). She was able to release her frustrations through painting. When she did release her frustration, people began to question if Frida was a surrealist or a realist.
A lot of people saw her as a surrealist because her work was not realistic, but she would disagree. Each painting was maybe not exactly what was seen, but it was how she felt, and that was not dreamlike to her. That is realistic to her because that is her in that exact moment. Frida Kahlo even painted pieces based on the Mexican culture, such as her second self portrait, “Time Flies,” where Kahlo used folk style and lively colors to show herself wearing clothing for the poor and the Mexican flag colors in the background(Frida Kahlo and Her Paintings 6). She painted pieces like this to prove that her world was all realistic, that it was all based on something that was actually happening either in her own life, or in the world. It may have been how she saw things, her perspective, but that does not mean that they were unreal.
The picture book, Frida, starts off with Frida’s childhood which is a major part of how Frida began to work on her art, and those experiences is what her art was about. The book introduces the fact that Frida had imaginary friends, and throughout the book these imaginary friends are displayed. Her imaginary friend was named Frida and they would play games together(Winter 6). Frida received the news that she is ill and that something is wrong with her leg, this is when she is diagnosed with polio(Winter 8). Something very hard to hear as a child, which is why it is not even referred to as polio in the book because it can be complicated for a child to understand. In the book it states that Frida can’t find happiness anymore with her imaginary friend, so, “That’s when Frida teaches herself how to draw. Drawing saves her from being sad”(Winter 9).
From a child’s perspective, when they read this they see that Frida was sick and unhappy, and they may ask what may cause her happiness, and it was drawing. A child may believe that art will make them happy when they are feeling sad, or they may find something else constructive that will help them when they are going through a tough time. In the book, Frida continues to draw even after she is no longer sick, meaning that art became a hobby and a huge focus. This can lead children to finding their own hobby, something that they can work on and grow to love.
Frida practices and experiments with different methods of painting. She is extremely creative which can be inspiring for children to read and see. Jonah Winter makes it easier for children to understand that an activity may help you get through any tough situation. By providing pictures of imaginary creatures on the pages where Frida is doing her art, they can understand that the imaginary friends were always there for her while she was painting. It embodies the message that painting was her imaginary friend. The same way her imaginary friends were there for her, her painting was always there to distract her from her hard life. Every child has certain needs, and one of those needs is the need for security. According to Children and Books, written by Zena Sutherland, “material satisfactions may become the chief symbols of security”(Sutherland 16). Painting is what provided Frida Kahlo security, it was what gave her comfort. Frida felt that she could fall back on painting and that it would allow her to slip away from her tough reality. The reason why Jonah Winter includes this in his picture book is to help children understand that the path of life is not always easy, but there is always something to do to help you get through it, so do not give up.
Frida Kahlo once said, “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality”(Goodreads). Artists, especially Frida Kahlo, are able to tell a story with a painting. Frida Kahlo’s paintings were stories of her own life. Any troubling situation that Frida went through, she turned to painting and that experience was the theme of that painting. In the book it mentions how Frida got in to a very bad bus accident which leads her to being admitted into a hospital(Winter 17). This exact bus accident is what led to Frida Kahlo’s famous piece of art named “The Broken Column”. This painting told a story of what happened to her, and her body, and how she felt. She felt like nails were holding her body together, her spine was broken to pieces and she was just being held together by a bandage. The bandage that truly held Frida together during an experience like this, and all other experiences was painting.
Even in the picture book it mentions, “In the hospital it is painting that saves her once again”(Winter 18). Painting was there for her when someone couldn’t physically be. To show the children that Frida painted about her own experiences of her life, Jonah Winter includes, “Instead of crying, she paints pictures of herself crying”(Winter 22). Jonah Winter wants to make sure that children who pick up this picture book understand that there is always a story to tell when it comes to pictures including his own picture book, and Frida Kahlo’s work itself.
Children at a young age are trying to find themselves, and they do this by starting to learn about other people and how they lived their lives and maybe connect their own life to theirs. Frida Kahlo is an extraordinary person due to the fact that she is so different. If you were to compare Frida Kahlo to someone like Michelangelo, anybody would say that there is a huge difference between the two artists. Frida Kahlo is different and it was definitely displayed throughout the picture book, Frida, with the pictures of her imaginary friends while she was painting, her not liking school and not hanging out with her classmates like any other “regular” child, and her developing such a high skill of art at such a young age. All of this can be inspiring for a child. The movie, Coco, directed by Lee Uncrich, came out in 2017 and features Frida Kahlo. Frida Kahlo is designing a set in the movie and she is so creative as to how she decided the set should look like and what the dancers should do. In the movie, Frida explains her set to Coco by saying, “Darkness. And from the darkness, a giant papaya. Dancers emerge from the papaya, and the dancers are all me. And they go to drink from the milk of their mother, who is a cactus. But who is also me. And her milk is not milk, but tears”(Coco 39.09). Coco was in shock after seeing this performance that she was planning because of how different it was, but he thought it was amazing. Frida’s design of the set was not common which is very similar to Frida Kahlo’s actual paintings. Some of Frida’s paintings are even displayed in the movie. Coco visits Frida, and he is looking at her paintings and they are all self portraits. Coco accepts who Frida is and is inspired by her. Being different is okay, everyone has their own story and you msut accept that story. Some people may accept what is shared, and some may not. That is what Frida Kahlo tries to do with her paintings; she tells her own story, but she shows the observers that everyone has a different story and that to come to terms with it is the only way to move forward with life. Jonah Winter does the same by sharing Frida’s past experiences, by showing her imaginary friends, by showing how inspired she was and dedicated even at such a young age. Winter shows children that Frida was different, and that they can be too. Frida Kahlo is a huge influence when it comes to telling a story because of how many different stories she has told with her paintings.
Frida by Jonah Winter did an amazing job in allowing children to understand who Frida was, to inform children that hobbies such as painting can ease up the pain that they’re mentally feeling, and that there is always a story to be told and it does not matter if it is different. Frida Kahlo was an amazing artist choice for Jonah Winter because of all of the beautiful colors displayed in her paintings. This leads children to form an interest in painting, in Frida Kahlo herself, or to even find something that will make their own life troubles seem little for a while.
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