I love to read picture books. They are illustrated poetry; they are succinct. They may be lyrical, or fun and full of word play.

As a school librarian, I’ve been known to become so enchanted by a new picture book that I immediately bring it over to my colleagues. “If you want to read something wonderful …”

But picture books are meant to be read aloud, in a shared experience with others. I am always eager to see how my students will react to the stories I read them. They always respond in interesting and surprising ways.

I recently read two books to a second-grade class: “Happy Dreamer,” by Peter H. Reynolds, and “Viva Frida,” by Yuyi Morales. Reynolds depicts a child who loves to imagine and create, a youngster who fits Henry David Thoreau’s description of “hearing a different drummer.” The book is a celebration of individuality.

I paired it with Morales’ ode to Frida Kahlo because the Mexican artist embodied the philosophy of “be yourself.” Morales created three-dimensional figures (puppets!) of Kahlo; her husband, the muralist Diego Rivera; and some of her animal friends. These were photographed in dioramas for use in the book. It also includes lush, colorful paintings in the style of Kahlo. The lifelike characters immediately captured the attention of the second-graders. “She looks like a doll!” Kahlo’s pet monkey and parrot entranced them.

The book is a poem. A bilingual poem. It begins “Soy/I am” and takes readers and listeners through Kahlo’s creative process: seeing, dreaming, loving, feeling, understanding and, finally, making art. There are only a few words on each page and no background information on Kahlo. I provided that. She had polio as a child and then was in a terrible streetcar accident that affected her health for the rest of her life. This tidbit required me to explain what a streetcar was. But I forgot I had a train buff in the room. He interjected, “They are also called trolleys.”

Why, yes, they are.

We talked about Kahlo’s passion for clothing, which incorporated Mexican folk and indigenous style, and how Morales used vivid shades of pink, coral and aqua for the costumes she created.

I pointed out the elements of the Día de los Muertos — Day of the Dead — in the illustrations: The papel picado (perforated paper banners) and a skeleton marionette. Although I briefly described the holiday, I hardly needed to. It is the central feature of the 2017 Disney/Pixar film “Coco,” and at least two students were eager to share everything they knew about it, as well as the entire plot of the movie.

Teachers are always gratified when students make connections across art forms like that.

The students were intrigued by the Spanish words. One asked me if I was Spanish. No, but I can speak some Spanish, as well as its sister language, Portuguese. A favorite page was “Que Amo/That I Love.” In this two-page spread, Rivera is kissing Kahlo’s cheek while her monkey and dog (and a deer, a frequent motif in Kahlo’s work) look on.

Amazingly, not a “yuck” was to be heard. One girl had me repeat “Amo” several times. I’m not sure who she was planning to say it to.

When I finished, they wanted me to read it again, just in English. Then they wanted me to read it just in Spanish, but we had run out of time.

This book is deceptively simple. It can be enjoyed just for its visual and literary beauty and its uplifting message. On the last page, Kahlo proclaims, ¡Vivo!/I live! But there are layers beneath — Kahlo’s life, her art and Mexican culture and traditions.

The second-graders responded to “Viva Frida” on all levels, which impressed me. They wanted to know more. They wanted to hear it in their own language, and in Kahlo’s language.

I try never to underestimate children. When I read the story “There Are No Bears in This Bakery” (Julia Sarcone-Roach) to kindergarteners, one solemnly informed me that baby bears are called cubs. When I asked what that book and the other one I read, “Nanette’s Baguette” (Mo Willems), had in common, at least one recognized that they both involved bakeries.

I have my moments of despair as an educator. I was disheartened to hear, just before the holiday break, first-graders telling each other how much time they were going to spend playing video games on their vacation. I hoped they were exaggerating.

And then I talk about an artist as complex as Frida Kahlo with 8-year-olds, and they want to hear the book in Spanish.

Esperanza vive. Hope lives.

Liz Soares welcomes email at is [email protected].

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