Bernier-Grand, C.T. (2009). Diego: Bigger Than Life. Marshall Cavendish Children.
Appetizer: Diego shares the biography of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera through thirty-four(ish) poems. Starting with his birth, the poems follow Rivera's life including a lot of interesting details (like how as a newborn, his pale body was dumped in a dung bucket). The poems also include a lot of Spanish words and draw attention to the beautiful sounds (like "a Mexican town whose name sounds like singing frogs in water: Guanajuato").
I liked that the poems often account for Diego's emotions. It would have been easy to write "he went here...then there...then got married...then went...," but Bernier-Grand dives deep, accounting for Diego's feeling about his role in the Mexican Revolution.
I was also surprised and impressed by how Bernier-Grand politely included the many love affairs Diego had throughout his life.
I also liked that, on occasion, the poems incorporated more than just Diego's voice. From time to time, Frida Kahlo and the Mexican Communist Party also share their perspectives.
This book was one of the honor books for the Belpre award this year (for the text AND the illustrations...do two award honors equal a winner? I think just maybe).
While I completely agree with the choice about the text, personally, the illustrations left me feeling "eeh." I liked their use of color, but I think I would have liked to see more of Rivera's own artwork reflected in more of the illustrations.
I love that a chronology of Diego's life was included at the end. I've read a biography in poems before and found it vaguely confusing because there was no way to ground the beautiful poems in a temporal setting. (I'm looking in your direction, Carver: A life in Poems!) But even if a student is too lazy to read through the chronology, the poems are easy to follow.
"What is life but a story?
I choose to embellish my life story.
I am DIEGO-
the charming, monstrous,
"So pale and dead I looked
that the midwife dumped me
in a dung bucket;
then helped my frail mother
give birth to my twin brother"
"I drew on furniture, walls, floors.
I drew pulleys, wheels, gears
in the margins and between the lines
of Papa's best books."
"A French teacher
spoke to me about a world without
rich people or poor people, only equals.
And Father Servin admired the pastel landscapes
I painted under the petroleum lamp.
He told me to be whatever I wanted to be."
"On public walls, I'd start a social revolution.
I'd paint the poetry of the common people,
working, suffering, fighting, seeking joy, living, and dying."
"Seven days a week, eighteen hours a day,
I painted fables of the history and culture of MExico,
my vision of the truth,
hoping people would learn what tomorrow might look like."
To Go with the Meal:
A teacher could also provide historical, ideological and political context for Diego's life and the Mexican Revolution. And aside from going into more depth of Rivera's biography (or that of Frida Kahlo), a teacher could do a lesson on murals and different styles (such as cubism) from around the world or have students design their own mural.
Based on the first poem, "Fabulous Storyteller," students could create their own books, writing poems about their own lives.
Tasty Rating: !!!!