The fall holiday season is a time for gathering with loved ones and for sharing foods we wait for all year long. But how often do we consider the inherited significance behind our festive tables? How often do we truly give thanks for the food before us? Two new picture books, Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story and Apple Cake: A Gratitude, reveal how food—and the act of creating and sharing it—can mean much more than a contented stomach.
In Kevin Noble Maillard’s Fry Bread, a family gathers to prepare a traditional Native American fry bread meal. For each step—mixing, frying and waiting—the bread represents an important aspect of their heritage. They may be making fry bread, but what they are truly creating is family, tradition and abiding pride in both.
Deftly illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, every page of Fry Bread is imbued with Native American history and culture. Echoes of ancient cave art, symbolic tattoos, handmade baskets and ceremonial designs tell a story of tradition. Family names (written by the illustrator’s children) and an image of the author’s aunt (who taught him to make fry bread) give Fry Bread an incredibly personal, cherished feel. Soft and subdued, Fry Bread is warm, inviting and uplifting.
Although Fry Bread’s narrative stands on its own, its message continues in a comprehensive author’s note. Over several pages, Maillard details the origins of fry bread as well as the complicated and often overlooked history of Native Americans in the United States. Maillard, who is an enrolled citizen of the Seminole Nation, also raises current issues, including health and medical care, racial diversity within today’s Native communities and the continuing struggle for recognition. With a list of additional references and resources, Fry Bread’s backmatter serves as an accessible resource tucked inside a children’s picture book. Rich with smells and sounds, Fry Bread radiates with Native American pride, the sharing of traditions and the love of family.
Unpretentious and charming, Dawn Casey’s Apple Cake follows a little girl in bright yellow boots as she and her energetic pup greet farm animals and tromp through fields to gather the ingredients to make apple cake. At each step, the girl acknowledges all the living things and elements that will come together to make her meal, including trees, bees, cows and rain. Once she finally makes her way home, she (and a few new friends) helps turn the apples, honey and milk into a treat.
Told with an easy rhyme scheme and friendly language, Apple Cake speaks to even the youngest readers. Reminiscent of a lullaby or prayer, Apple Cake offers assurance in its comforting rhythms and the heartening words of thanks. Genevieve Godbout’s illustrations have old-fashioned sensibility. Muted, pastel colors and gentle lines give movement to the land, while colored-pencil strokes create a world that is delicate in texture, almost enchanted. The animals are calm and familiar, and the simple, bold faces of characters are amiable and timeless.
The finishing touch for a book that will genuinely bring people together is a recipe for apple cake, which sagely includes advice for cooking with children. Just as Apple Cake’s story concludes with a picnic, reading this book may result in a trip to an apple orchard and homey smells from your own oven.