Diego Rivera is a renowned Mexican painter, celebrated for depicting Mexican culture and history on unique fresco murals throughout his country. Mexican writer and illustrator, Duncan Tonatiuh, was a recent recipient of the 2012 Pura Belpré Illustration Award – awarded to those whose work best portrays, affirms and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in children’s books. Tonatiuh was honored for his artful biographic tribute, Diego Rivera: His World and Ours, which tells the influential story of a young boy with a passion for drawing.
In his picture book, Tonatiuh focuses on Rivera’s artistic endeavors, depicting his travels exceptionally well, using digestible language to help young readers grasp artistic concepts. In Madrid, “[Diego] learned the classical way to paint, which means his finished paintings looked very realistic, almost like photographs” and while in Paris, he “experimented with new methods of painting…One method was called Cubism, in which the painting did not exactly resemble its subject but was composed of geometric shapes, such as squares, circles, and triangles.” Readers who seek elaboration of references made to art and Mexican culture can look towards the glossary at the end of the book, where a conveniently detailed list of terms in story sequence is found. (Also included: a detailed biography; list of Rivera’s original work inspired in the book; and list of places to view them in person.)
Tonatiuh emphasizes how much of an influence Mexican culture, like Los listones (the ribbon dance from southern Mexico), as well as historical events, such as the Mexican Revolution and the Aztec battles against Spanish conquistadors, had on Rivera’s artwork. Rivera was known for blending classical and abstract techniques, fusing them both with the simplistic, ancient Mexican approach to create a style all his own. Similar to Rivera’s blended art style, Tonatiuh blends digital with analog, composing digitally collaged hand drawings to create charming illustrations. The images guide the story fittingly and are stylistically reminiscent of ancient Mexican art as well. Tonatiuh also includes re-interpreted versions of Rivera’s most notable pieces, including The Great City of Tenochtitlán and Flower Festival.
What separates His World from typical biographical works is that Tonatiuh invites the reader to explore Diego Rivera’s creative mindset. After introducing Rivera’s history and influence among Mexican people, Tonatiuh poses the question: “If he were alive today, what would he paint?” He provides an avenue for critical thought and creative stimulation. Tonatiuh emphasizes the fact that Rivera sought to share his history and highlight aspects of daily life, asking, “Would he paint the big city as he painted the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlán?” Tonatiuh reveals blank walls are waiting to be colored with murals, urging the reader to engage in portraying their own history and culture. Rivera then becomes more than a static figure to young readers; he lives through their artful endeavors.
Diego Rivera: His World and Ours is Tonatiuh’s admirable celebration of his heritage. He does well in extending his motivation to create through the richness of art to younger generations of all cultures. With its resonating content and wonderful illustrations, this picture book makes a delightful read for a child of any background.