Review: Fry Bread By Maillard & Martinez-Neal

Today’s food picture book is a “Native American Family Story.” It is a powerful and poetic book about fry bread – a food full of shape, flavor, art, family, diversity, history and tradition. Take a look at Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, 2019.

The structure of this story is quite different. It is told in verse with each page covering a specific idea or characteristic of fry bread. It touches on the ingredients that make up fry bread; the shape, sound, color, flavor it takes as it cooks; the time and art that goes into it; the history, location, and nations that create it; and the diversity of every fry bread as well as the people who treasure and continue to make it.

There is an extensive author’s note in the back, spanning several pages, and relating to almost every individual spread. Maillard has provided his own family recipe for fry bread and then touches on each part of the book and how fry bread can be beloved while also controversial, and how it changes amongst nations and tribes and even family to family. He does a lovely job supporting all the facts and words with footnotes, while never letting go of the personal notes that make fry bread special to himself and so many other Native families.

I love the way Maillard gently handles the controversy and history of fry bread. He presents the truth and the pain that went into the necessity of inventing fry bread and the ways that it can be used in mourning and also celebrating Native resilience and that Indigenous people are still here. I was not aware of fry bread, nor at all of the deep issues and beauty surrounding it. Maillard has given a great picture book introduction to both.

One of the most unique and beautiful aspects of this book is the illustrations, especially the variety of characters in the fry bread family. It is amazing to think about the hundreds of Native American tribes still in existence and the incredible range of features that Native people have. It heavily and fantastically challenges the stereotypes we hold about looks defining people. There is so much to think about with this incredible book. And we cannot wait to try our hands at making a batch of fry bread while we discuss the complexities and value in its existence.

“We strengthen each other
to learn, change, and survive.”

Kevin Noble Maillard

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