Reviews by Deborah Locke
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story is a picture book so cute and full of meaning that you’ll want to run out and buy a copy for every three-year-old in your life.
Sure, its plot is on the thin side. It’s about making fry bread and why we love fry bread and the history of fry bread.
It is also about tradition and longevity, family, taste, texture, and place. In fact, there’s more about American Indian life in this little book than you’ll find in adult fiction purporting to explain some tragic but noble American Indian point of view. Writer Kevin Maillard (Seminole Nation), and illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal neatly show children the way traditions define them. Here’s an example of that from the section, “Fry Bread Is Us.”
“We are still here, Elder and young, Friend and neighbor. We strengthen each other to learn, change and survive.”
How powerful is that, and wouldn’t a reader of any age gain with a reminder that Indian survival means strengthening each other? Then there’s this segment: “Fry Bread Is History.”
“The long walk, the stolen land. Strangers in our own world with unknown food. We made new recipes from what we had.”
What better way to introduce sophisticated concepts to a toddler? Additionally, the pictures are as meaningful as the words. Martinez-Neal’s engaging illustrations are so fetching that you’ll want to frame a couple of them. As I read the story, I imagined the chubby hand of a small child in my lap, pointing at the book’s pile of delicious fry bread on a platter.
Maillard and Martinez-Neal won nearly every children’s literature award that exists for their small masterpiece. That begs this question. When will we see a sequel?
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story, Kevin Maillard and Juana Martinez-Neal, Roaring Brook Press, 2019. $18.99. The book is recommended for children age two to six. Awards include Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Book, Booklist 2019 Editor’s Choice, 2020; Winner of the 2020 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal; and the 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Picture Book Honor.
We Are Water Protectors
We Are Water Protectors is a children’s picture book about the importance of water and threats to its future. The narrator, a small American Indian girl, explains how water nurtures all human life as our first “medicine.”
She warns readers about threats to the earth’s water supply, including the “black snake” which is a metaphor for the oil lines that leak and pollute water, and the critical need to defend the water. This call to action for five-year-old children will affect the adults reading it to children, also. The book is a well-illustrated, and a blunt reminder why water needs protection now.
The story, by Carole Lindstrom (Anishinaabe/Metis) and illustrated by Michaela Goade (Tlingit), starts with the little girl explaining that her Nokomis (grandmother) told her that humans come from water, and it is sacred. Water is the first medicine that nourished us in the womb. Defiance flows through the book, as readers are reminded that American Indians stand with their songs and drums and are still here.
An Ojibwe prophecy predicted that a “black snake” would destroy the land and make water unfit to drink, and that snake must be destroyed. Some beings can’t fight for themselves, like animals and plants and trees and rivers and lakes, so humans must fight for what can’t fight for itself.
Water has its own spirit, Lindstrom writes. “Water is alive. Water remembers our ancestors who came before us. We are stewards of the Earth, our spirits have not been broken.”
An author’s note recounts the 2016 Standing Rock Sioux effort to resist the presence of oil pipelines anywhere near Dakota land. The retelling of that story, coupled with the narrator’s young voice, creates a reminder to all of the power of collective voices to right a wrong.
“We Are Water Protectors” by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade, (Roaring Book Press, 2020; $17.99) The book won the Randolph Caldecott Medal for artistry, and the Golden Kite Aware for excellence in children’s literature.