Little Frida: A Story of Frida Kahlo by Anthony Browne
Little Frida: A Story of Frida Kahlo
Review Copy from Candlewick Press
I have long loved AnthonyBrowne's picture books, and this marks the eighth one I have reviewed here. As an art school dropout, I appreciate his painterly illustrations and his passion for patterns and love the references to great works from Western art history. He also is one of the most sensitive, thoughtful authors when it comes to putting emotions on the page, especially in a way that young readers will recognize. With Little Frida, Browne seems to have found a kindred spirit in Kahlo, bringing an understanding of the way that the illness and injury of her childhood shaped her as a creative thinker and human being. As he writes in backmatter on Kahlo, experiencing polio and a near fatal accident made Kahlo "acutely conscious of her otherness and the difference between her inner and outer worlds." Little Frida reads like an origin story for an inner world that would grow and deepen, one that would fuel Kahlo's surreal creativity.
Narrating her story, Frida tells readers that she fell ill with polio when she was six and had to say in bed for nine months. It was extremely painful and left her walking slowly with a limp, her right leg noticeably thinner than the left. Children made fun of her and called her names. She knew she was different, and being different made her an outsider. Asking for, but not receiving a toy airplane for her seventh birthday, Frida found a way to fly in her dreams. Drawing a door on the fogged window of her bedroom, she opened it and stepped out into freedom. Following the description from Kahlo's diary, Browne takes readers on a journey through the dream world where Little Frida, often isolated and alone, meets a wonderful companion. Dressed in white, this girl can dance and move gracefully and listens intently to all the Frida has to say. A stranger, this girl "felt so familiar." Browne echoes Kahlo's painting The Two Fridas in an illustration of these friends, sharing (in the backmatter) that Kahlo credited this painting (and others) to the memory of this imaginary friend who allowed Frida to find the joy of connection and freedom of movement she could not experience in her everyday life.
Frida returns to the real world, alone again, but very happy with the knowledge that she could visit this new friend whenever she wanted. Browne ends his story with these words,
From that day I began to paint the girl, over and over again. I've visited her many time since we met, and in a way, I've been painting her ever since . . .
I'm not sure if Kahlo specifically says in her diaries that the imaginary friend she created as a child looked just like her. But I like to think that Browne read Kahlo's words about leaving the pain and isolation of illness and injury for a fantasy world where she finds a friend and imagined this as the starting point for a creative journey that produced many self-portraits that brought Kahlo's inner world out.