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Sharing Fry Bread with 2nd and 4th Graders

Fry Bread

“Fry bread is…food, shape, sound, color, flavor, time, art, history, place and nation. Fry bread is everything; fry bread is us.” 

Fry Bread is doubly gifted. It’s a simple, short-verse picture book that even the youngest readers will enjoy, but it’s also an informational book through an extended author’s note for older readers. The author Kevin Noble Maillard writes his family’s story connected to bread and shares his recipe from the Seminole Nation. However, the book branches way beyond food by exploring time, art, history and place. 

For example on the “Color” spread the book text reads, 

“Golden brown, tan or yellow

Deep like coffee, sienna or earth

Light like snow and cream

Warm like rays of sun”

He’s writing about bread, yes, but he’s also writing about colors in modern Native American families. His author’s note elaborates on this, “Most people think Native Americans always have brown skin and black hair. But there is an enormous range of hair textures and skin colors. Just like the characters in this book, Native people may have blonde hair or black skin, tight cornrows or a loose braid. This wide variety of faces reflects a history of intermingling between tribes and also with people of European, African and Asian descent.” 

The gorgeous illustrations are done by Juana Martinez-Neal (I loved her debut book, Alma and How She Got Her Name) and there are some pages where students will be excited to find embedded images. For example, on the “Fry Bread is Nation” spread, the background honors the names of indigenous nations and communities within the United States. Kevin wrote, “We researched or reached out to each nation listed here to confirm the usage of their tribal name. We wanted to be as accurate as possible and to include tribes in the process.” 

On the “Fry Bread is Us” spread, the kitchen cabinet has the names and doodles from all the people involved with the book. The picture on the wall is the author’s Aunt Fannie who taught Kevin to make fry bread.

An Opportunity to Explore Fry Bread with Buddies:

As evidenced by how hard it is still to get gluten-free flour (I am Celiac) and yeast at the grocery store, Covid-19 brought out the breadmakers in many of us. First, homemade bread is better. It just is. Then there’s the “need to knead.” It’s powerful to coax flour and a few ingredients into a warm, pull-apart loaf. Finally, it’s a beautiful gift. One of our neighbors has brought over gluten-free sourdough because he’s “made too much” and we treasure it. Bread like that often makes its way into my thankfulness at the end of the day.  

At school, I am lucky to have a second-grade colleague who meets with me in the fall to pair our students together and plan. There are so many benefits to meeting up with our “buddies” every other week. They read to each other, share their writing, do art projects together and learn together. When my colleague and I shared Fry Bread this summer we immediately knew it was a buddy book rich with opportunity. While her second graders might connect around the traditional Seminole patchwork designs shown on the doll’s clothing and woman’s skirt, my fourth graders could pore over the endpapers to find tribes from Washington State related to our work in social studies. I’ve already spotted the Kalispel, Lummi, Nisqually and more. 

Of course, as a culminating project at some future, post-pandemic point when we can allow bread to rise and bring us together, we will make Kevin’s Fry Bread and savor it while it’s still warm. 

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