December 14, 2016

French Toast

by Kari-Lynn Winters
Illustrated by François Thisdale
Pajama Press
978-1-77278-006-2
32 pp.
Ages 6+
November 2016

Although National French Toast is celebrated on November 28, I thought that reviewing this inspirational picture book on that day would trivialize its significant message.  And since my family enjoys French toast, the food, on Christmas morning, I opted to celebrate the book’s publication closer to that celebration, one similarly wrapped in inclusivity, culture, love and family.

While out for a walk with her grandmother, Nan-ma, Phoebe is called “French Toast” by kids from school.  Obviously humiliated, the little girl clarifies to the blind woman that she is called that because the colour of her skin is “Like tea, after you’ve added the milk.” (pg. 10) But Nan-ma sees that as “Warm and good” which gets Phoebe wondering since the label doesn’t usually make her feel good, just as “I don’t feel good when strangers at the mall comment on my ringlets or ask me about my accent.” (pg. 11)  This begins a discussion about the colour of Phoebe’s mother’s skin, usually identified as white, but which Phoebe recognizes more like stirred peach yogurt, filled with sweetness and goodness.  She sees her father as warm banana bread and her Nan-ma like maple syrup, and then others as cinnamon honey and toasted coconut. Meanwhile, as they walk, a girl from school engages Phoebe, surprising her by calling her by name. Finally Phoebe takes to heart the guidance she has taken and likewise given, flavouring her life, her family and herself with optimism.
From French Toast 
by Kari-Lynn Winters 
illus. by François Thisdale
French Toast starts out as less about the food and more about labelling but Kari-Lynn Winters, with illustrator François Thisdale (most recently awarded the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award), turns the story around to be about the goodness of food and relationships that nourish us.  Kari-Lynn Winters, who can do fun and whimsical (e.g., Good Pirate, Pajama Press, 2016) as well as serious and meaningful (e.g., Gift Days, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2012), impresses with her splendid foray into understanding and acceptance of skin colour, diversity and multiculturalism (Phoebe’s family is Haitian) and one that warms the heart and fills the belly with virtue and affection.
From French Toast
 by Kari-Lynn Winters 
illus. by François Thisdale
Kari-Lynn Winter’s story could only have been paired with the artistry of François Thisdale who illustrated the memorable The Stamp Collector (Jennifer Lanthier, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2012) and That Squeak (Carolyn Beck, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2015). François Thisdale, whose artwork is a magical blend of drawing and painting with digital imagery, balances the reality of Phoebe and her grandmother’s relationship and emotional situations with a dream-like landscape. His colours and textures fuse so many elements that the book becomes more art than merely a child’s picture book. And then there are the images of glorious food that cultivate nourishment for the soul, inspiring Phoebe and her grandmother, and anyone who reads the book, to see family and skin colour from a fresh perspective.

French toast may not be part of your holiday buffet but French Toast should definitely be on everyone’s bookshelf and story-telling list for the holidays and every day of the year when acceptance is vital i.e., always.  It feeds the spirit and bakes up multiple servings of compassion and open-mindedness, helpings we should all scoop out enthusiastically.
From French Toast
by Kari-Lynn Winters 
illus. by François Thisdale

No comments:

Post a comment