Fry Bread A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. Roaring Brook Press, New York, NY, 2019.
Kevin Noble Maillard’s debut children’s book is a joyful romp that uses the making of fry bread to represent the culture of Indigenous America. Juana Martinez-Neal’s illustrations in acrylics, colored pencils and graphite, bring to life a kitchen filled with children and adults. Each page has a heading, followed by a short poetic description of the page. “Fry Bread is Food” headlines the first page:
“Flour, salt, water
Cornmeal, baking powder
Perhaps milk, maybe sugar
All mixed together in a big bowl.”
In the extensive author’s note in the back of the book, each page of the book is explained in detail. For “Fry Bread is Food,” the author explains how he makes fry bread and how “Fry bread is a food of inheritance and family.” Different tribes make it different ways. Families pass down recipes. He uses cornmeal which many will think strange. “If there is one thing that all Natives can agree upon about fry bread, it’s that everybody else’s version is wrong.”
“Fry Bread is Shape” points out that fry bread comes in all different shapes. In the author’s note, he says: “Just like people, there is no one shape, body type, or shoe size that makes anyone better than anyone else.”
Because of the extensive author’s note, which includes a recipe, this book could definitely be used with older children who want to dig deeper into Native American culture. Kids will learn that “…there are some Natives who strongly oppose fry bread because it exacerbates existing health problems.” But there is a larger problem here. Natives were “…forced to deviate from a traditional Indigenous diet.” Living in food deserts, many have no access to healthy foods. He tries to make his fry bread a little healthier by using unrefined coconut oil but admits there really is no healthy fry bread. “…fry bread is like birthday cake or Halloween candy: a special treat to be cherished and savored.” It is not meant to be a daily part of a diet.
Elementary teachers need this delightful book on their shelf. The illustrations will appeal to the youngest child because they are just so adorable. I know that last word is overused, but it perfectly describes the illustrations, particularly the red-haired baby that gets passed among family members. The different skin and hair color (and styles) of the family members portray the diversity of Native People. From the author’s note: “Most people think Native Americans always have brown skin and black hair. But there is an enormous range of hair textures and skin colors.”
“Fry Bread is Color
Golden brown, tan or yellow
Deep like coffee, sienna, or earth
Light like snow and cream
Warm like rays of sun.”