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Review of Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos
by Monica Brown; illus. by John Parra
Primary    NorthSouth    40 pp.
9/17    978-0-7358-4269-4    $17.95
Spanish ed.  978-0-7358-4292-2    $17.95

Mexican painter, feminist icon, artistic genius — to these descriptors for Frida Kahlo we should add “animal lover.” That’s the takeaway from this lovely biographical portrait (simultaneously published in a Spanish-language edition), in which the legendary artist is depicted first as a child working on a drawing of monkeys and dogs and then interacting with animals throughout her too-short life. It’s always an act of daring to illustrate a book about a visual artist, and Parra succeeds not by imitating Kahlo’s style but by supporting the upbeat tone of Brown’s accessible text with exquisitely neat compositions in a muted palette. As Brown introduces each of Kahlo’s many pets, taking some liberties with the pet chronology, she connects each one with the artist (“Frida had a cat with black, shiny fur, the same color as her long dark hair”) and uses the comparison to illuminate Kahlo’s illness-and-accident-compromised life (“Like a cat, Frida was playful. But as a child, Frida couldn’t always play”). In addition to providing her with much-needed comfort, Kahlo’s pets served as subjects for her paintings. In an author’s note, Brown mentions that Kahlo couldn’t have children, which adds another level of interest to the artist’s inclusion of animals in her famous self-portraits: might these paintings also be family portraits?

From the March/April 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Nell Beram

Nell Beram is coauthor of the young adult biography Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies (Amulet/Abrams), which made the 2014 Amelia Bloomer Project list and YALSA’s 2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound list.

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