SIBERT CHALLENGE: Fry Bread, A Native American Family Story

EACH year, the Sibert Medal is awarded to the “most distinguished” U.S. children’s nonfiction book. I have challenged myself to read all 21 Sibert Medal winners and to share these award-winning nonfiction books with you.

I began by sharing the 2021 Sibert Medal winner: Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Melifera by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann. Today, I am sharing the 2020 Sibert Medal winner: Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martinez-Neal.

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martinez-Neal

  • Recommended for: cultural sharing, teaching students about Native American history and culture
  • Interest level: pre-K & up
  • Reading level: 2nd grade & up
    • lexile: 410-600
    • guided reading: N

FRY Bread is a lyrical description of the cultural significance of fry bread to Native Americans. Fry Bread can be used to encourage cultural sharing; First, read Fry Bread to students, and then, invite students to share their own stories of a food that is meaningful to them. Fry Bread can also be used to teach students about Native American history and culture, by discussing each spread or by reading the Author’s Note aloud (good for 3rd grade and up).

At first glance, Fry Bread is a simple celebration of a tasty food. However, for author Kevin Noble Maillard, fry bread offers a jumping off point to highlight the diversity and resiliency of Native Americans and to introduce Native American history and culture.

Maillard explains: “The story of fry bread is the story of American Indians: embracing community and culture in the face of opposition.” Fry bread first began being made 150 years ago by the Navajo (Diné). When deprived of ingredients they traditionally cooked with, the Navajo and many tribes thereafter began cooking some form of fry bread.

Early Sibert Medal winners circa 2001 were recognized solely for their prose — not for their illustrations. In contrast, Fry Bread stands out because its prose and illustrations contribute equally to making this book “distinguished.”

Maillard’s text is perfectly pitched to kids and fun to read aloud. Based on how well Fry Bread rolls off the tongue, one would never suspect that Maillard is a law professor. The only hint of Maillard’s law professor roots comes from his carefully-footnoted Author’s Note, and I, for one, am appreciative of both the substance of his message and his attention to accuracy. Kids deserve thoughtful, well-researched nonfiction books.

Juana Martinez-Neal’s illustrations are warm, beautifully textured and full of life. Her illustrations highlight Native American diversity by depicting Native Americans with a wide range of hair textures and skin colors. The end pages further highlight Native American diversity by including the names of the hundreds of Native American tribes who exist today. Furthermore, Martinez-Neal appears to have worked hand in hand with Maillard to include culturally relevant details in each image.

In short, Fry Bread is a Sibert Medal winner that delivers on all fronts, from it’s painstakingly researched end papers to its thoughtful and informative Author Note, from it’s joyful depiction of a diverse and modern Native American family to its secret 2nd cover and fry bread recipe.

Also by Juana Martinez-Neal

Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal

Newly published! A fictional tale that introduces young readers to the Peruvian rain forest, including both the wildlife and Asháninka people who live there.

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

A 2018 Caldecott Honor award winner. As with Fry Bread, Alma and How She Got Her Name can be used to encourage cultural sharing: read this book and then invite students to share stories behind their names.

Chime into the discussion!

  • What do you think about Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martinez-Neal?
  • How might you share this book with kids?

Join the Sibert Challenge!

Next up:

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman

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