KidLitCripCrit – Frida Kahlo: Little People, Big Dreams (this one is personal)

A photo from 2017 - Lucy is lying in bed wearing a floral skirt, with Mainie age 3, who is holding Little People Big Dreams: Frida Kahlo & grinning. Our text reads: KidLitCripCrit; Children's books and disability 
Inside pages: Kahlo as a schoolgirl, one leg is thin and in a brace. Other girls stand separately from her. "Her leg was as skinny as a rake."

I live in bed. So this one is personal, and precious. Because we never see this. The photo is from 2017 – I’ve been reading this book to Mainie for 3 years. It’s beloved. 

This is the last book from our KidLitCripCrit top 6. But we’ll certainly be carrying it on whenever we find good examples of disability representation in picture books. 

As an adult I ate up Frida Kahlo biographies. I love her paintings. But more than that she holds out a hope – that bed life is not all tragedy or imminent death. And finding beauty in it is valid. 

Life is messy. Frida Kahlo’s life certainly was. And this is a picture book. It must have been tempting to over-simplify. This book doesn’t. (I mean, the dalliance with Trotsky & her husband’s affair with her sister are left out – but that’s probably for the best.) 

Just like many disabled people, Kahlo’s disabilities were not simple – polio as a child, then an eye-watering injury in a bus crash. This is not what the world wants from us disabled people – it likes a before & after. Clarity. 

Sometimes Kahlo passed for ‘normal’. At different times she was:

– a polio survivor with a leg brace

– living in bed

– walking with a stick

– a wheelchair user

– an amputee 

All – except the amputation in later life – are pictured. And that is the power of this book for me. 

I love the image of her as a young, beautifully dressed woman, clutching her painting and walking with a stick. 

When we see Kahlo in her wheelchair, she’s painting. 

Her art is the focus of the book, mobility aids the background. 

Disability as part of a fascinating, rich life. 

Frida Kahlo famously did not avoid pain in her art, so it’d be ironic if a biography – even a child’s one – did. But pain is a hard subject. (Some adult biographies get this horribly wrong.) The word “pain” appears twice here – enough for me. 

I could do without the one instance of “Frida overcame…” in the notes at the back. Not all things can be overcome – a hard truth, admittedly. 

(Do judge for yourself.) 

As far as I know, in terms of disability this book is not own voices. But it is excellent.

You can find Frida Kahlo, Little People Big Dreams here – Blackwell’s include international delivery. And if you’d like to support what we do, you can find our KidLitCripCrit list on Bookshop UK and Bookshop US – where you can buy most books on our list, and the books we represent.

Lucy Catchpole

First posted on Instagram, October 2020.

[Image descriptions:

  1. A photo from 2017 – Lucy is lying in bed wearing a floral skirt, with Mainie age 3, who is holding Little People Big Dreams: Frida Kahlo & grinning. Our text reads: KidLitCripCrit; Children’s books and disability 
  2. Inside pages: Kahlo as a schoolgirl, one leg is thin and in a brace. Other girls stand separately from her. “Her leg was as skinny as a rake.”
  3. Kahlo lies in a pool of blood with her eyes closed, an ambulance behind her. Our text: I’m glad they didn’t dodge the pain & blood – it’s such a part of her work & life. 
  4. Kahlo is wearing a very lovely red dress and standing holding her painting. Our text: Young, beautifully dressed, with a walking stick. Standing, but not cured. I wish it weren’t unusual to see this but it is. 
  5. Illustration of Kahlo, she sits in a wheelchair painting a self portrait. There’s a child’s Frida doll on top of the book. Our text reads: This is a doll – it’s not a pop-up book. The only page showing her using a wheelchair – easy to miss but a nice detail. I’m a full-time wheelchair user but most people just use one occasionally – something the world does not get. 
  6. A 2020 photo, of Lucy & Mainie in the same bed as the 2017 photo, with the same book. Mainie is bigger, Lucy more tired.
  7. Kahlo in bed, in a full body cast decorated with butterflies in a lovely bedroom. Our text: We almost never see people living life from bed. These pages have power for me & my girls.
  8. Frida Kahlo lies in her bed at an exhibition of her paintings, smiling & surrounded by people. Our text reads: Kahlo’s iconic last exhibition – she had her bed moved into the gallery. It’s Mainie’s favourite page.
  9. More detailed biography pages at the back of the book, with photos. I’ve underlined the line ‘Frida overcame the accident that marked her life’. Our text reads: the “overcame” sentence I could do without.
  10. A book stack photo of all 6 books in our initial KidLitCripCrit top 6 – from the top El Deafo, This Beach Is Loud, Little People Big Dreams Frida Kahlo, A Kids Book About Disabilities, Mama Zooms, I Am Not a Label]

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