Like the other books in Laurence Anholt’s Artist series, this one is structured round a story about a child’s meetings with a famous painter. Seeing things from a young person’s viewpoint adds great interest and helps draw young readers in. Young Mariana visits the house of Frida Kahlo, the renowned Mexican painter, and in the course of having her portrait painted she and the artist become true friends. However, at first Mariana is fearful as she has seen some of Frida’s arresting and rather unusual paintings and has heard that there is a skeleton above her bed. The skeleton turns out to be just a big, friendly looking toy in a funny hat and Mariana comes to appreciate that the paintings are very beautiful. The visits are full of rich experiences: Mariana meets Frida’s many exotic pets- a spider monkey, a parrot, an eagle and a baby deer -and she marvels at Frida’s beautiful long dresses and her interesting house – which is ‘like a bright blue fairy tale palace’. Anholt’s pictures are full of life and colour in the distinctive style of the artist and the written text in hand writing style helps make this a personal story.
Some amusing things happen: Frida tells Mariana that she has another pet – the enormous Frog Toad. This turns out to be Diego, Frida’s husband, who is on a very large scale and has ‘big froggy eyes’. They both laugh when they see three giant pairs of Diego’s pink underpants hanging on the washing line.
When they know each other well, Frida tells Mariana about a terrible accident which happened to her when she was eighteen and about to follow a medical training. A tram crashed into the bus she was travelling in and she sustained serious injuries to her spine and legs. These injuries caused the artist pain all her life but one good thing came of her misfortune. Her father brought a gift of oil paints to the hospital and her career as an artist began. So Frida is known not only for her vibrant creative work but also for her courage in re building her life after such life changing injuries. Frida pays tribute to Marina’s bravery, too, in overcoming her fear as a small girl coming on her own to the house and studio of a great artist.