Florida Seminole Tourism

Genuine Representation for Little Readers: Fry Bread by Kevin Maillard

Summer weather is officially here in Florida! That means high humidity, soaring temperatures, and the possibility of hurricanes and tropical storms. But here at Florida Seminole Tourism, it also means the return of our Summer Book Club! In the past, we have looked at the life of Betty Mae Jumper, What We Have Endured by Willie Johns and John and Mary Lou Missal, and A Land Remembered by Patrick D. Smith.

So this summer we are dedicating the entire month of June to our Summer Book Club series. Our most ambitious Summer Book Club yet, we will feature two fiction books each week written by Indigenous authors from around the United States. We will also focus on different age groups, so that we can share impactful, Indigenous stories for readers of all ages!

This week, we are starting off with our youngest readers, and sharing two picture books: Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Nobel Maillard (Seminole Nation of Oklahoma) and Powwow Day by Traci Sorell (Cherokee). The first, Fry Bread, will be in this post. Also follow back with the blog on Monday to read about Powwow Day by Traci Sorell!

As we navigate our Summer Book Club series, we encourage you to read and elevate Indigenous authors and voices around you. It may not seem impactful, but it is! By reading and sharing these stories, you are maintaining diversity, inclusiveness, and honoring Indigenous stories in literature. So now, cozy up and let’s get lost in a good book (or two!)



Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Nobel Maillard

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story is a 2019 children’s picture book brimming with warmth, family stories, cultural history, and meaning. Perfect for school age kids, it repeats the simple refrain “Fry bread is…” over each two-page spread to share the cultural history and implication of fry bread. By utilizing sensory words, Maillard creates an immersive experience designed to invite you into the community’s embrace and also teach you about Native history.

Starting out at the surface level “Fry bread is food,” Maillard then dives deeper, and frames fry bread as a symbol. He uses fry bread as a foil to discuss difficult topics and then explores the concepts of family, togetherness, diversity, identity, and Native pride. Woven into the verses is also acknowledgement of the pain found in Native history. One verse reads “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.”

All of this is set on the rich backdrop of Martinez-Neal’s illustrations, which evoke the same feelings of warmth, family, and community. Additionally included in the book is an extensive, eight-page Author’s Note. The note explores not only Maillard’s own family history and fry bread story, but the history of fry bread, how it came to be, Native history, and the complexities of Native identity and diversity.

The Author’s Note mirrors the book itself, with each section starting with the same refrains found on the earlier pages, “Fry bread is…” By including the note at the back, Maillard is clearly trying to spark discussion and understanding of the Native experience. He shares his family story, and weaves in art styles and symbols from his own tribe, to represent one Native story among many, as well as to highlight the diversity of Native people. He ends with “Fry bread is us…. we are still here.”

Back Cover Art

Fry Bread Discussion Questions and Activities

  1. What is fry bread? Why is it special? Share a special food in your own family, community, or culture and why you think it is special.
  2. How can food be used to also tell a people’s history and story?
  3. What is something you learned for the first time while reading Fry Bread and its Author’s Note? Start with the prompt “I never knew…” and share your response.
  4. Explore the endpapers of Fry Bread. What are the names listed, and what do they mean? Choose one of the tribes represented and explore their history, story, and culture.
  5. Make Kevin’s Fry Bread recipe in the back of the book. Talk about what it means to take such simple ingredients to make something delicious. By sharing the recipe, and his own family’s fry bread stories, Maillard is encouraging you to make your own fry bread memories and stories with your family.

Part of Fry Bread’s endpapers. Can you find the Seminole Tribe of Florida?


About Author Kevin Nobel Maillard

A professor of law at Syracuse University and contributor to the New York Times, Kevin Nobel Maillard is a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Fry Bread is his debut book and was released in 2019. Maillard was inspired to write Fry Bread when searching for books to read for his own two children and finding very few that even featured Native children. There were even fewer written or illustrated by Native authors or artists.

He was deeply troubled by the implications of this, sharing his thoughts in a 2019 NBC New York interview. Maillard states “If we don’t have these books that reflect us, does it mean that we’re not here, that we don’t exist, that we don’t have anything interesting to say? There weren’t any books that were featuring native kids that were your average children’s book.”

Maillard went on to note that most people get their information about Native people in elementary school. This then cemented his desire to write a picture book and share a Native story with the youngest readers. “Picture books are a way…” Maillard stated “it’s a first step of social justice, for native people, because its dispelling stereotypes that people vanished.”

Fry bread and its complex history was then a fitting symbol to convey this message. Born out of oppression, fry bread has now become a beloved staple at special events and in Native communities. Maillard shares “they made something good from what little that they had. This is something remembering how these people survived. It’s a story of resilience. So, whenever people eat fry bread now it’s definitely a reminder of what these people that came before us, what they went through…. Native Americans are still here, still alive, that we persisted, and we are resilient, and we are not going anywhere.”


About Illustrator Juana Martinez Neal

Peruvian author-illustrator Juana Martinez Neal illustrated Fry Bread. Her own personal debut novel Alma and How She Got Her Name won a Caldecott Honor in 2019. Martinez Neal, who lives in Connecticut, got her start in art by following in her family’s footsteps. “My father and grandfather were both fine artists in Peru and I grew up in a house surrounded by art materials, easels, art studio spaces and paintings – painted by people who I knew.” Martinez Neal shares in a 2018 Cynsations interview.

She worked in art and illustration throughout her career, transitioning to children’s books after her own children were born. Her novel Alma and How She Got Her Name explores identity, representation, family, and Martinez Neal’s own journey. Martinez Neal shares “I am Peruvian, and I often see my people and culture underrepresented or shown in only one story often filled with stereotypes.”

Fry Bread also tries to capture the diversity and complexity of Native identity and representation particularly through Martinez Neal’s illustrations. We also see a variety in the characters in Fry Bread; Maillard and Martinez Neal tried to capture the reality of Native families today. Maillard quips in a 2019 NPR interview “Cause people can look like white people. They can look like what people think of as Latino. They could look like black people. They could look like Asians, right? So, there’s no real way that Native people should look.”

Martinez-Neal, who didn’t see herself represented in a book until she was 18, also used the end papers of Fry Bread to list every state and federally recognized tribe, as well as those seeking recognition. “I think that’s so important.” Martinez-Neal states “It’s being seen. It’s being recognized. It’s – that little, tiny space that each name takes, I think it’s so meaningful.”


Looking for more?

Below, we have compiled a list of more Native written and illustrated books for kindergarten through elementary age readers!


Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek)

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthis Leitich Smith

Chukfi Rabbit’s Big Bad Bellyache: A Trickster Tale by Greg Rodgers (Choctaw)

Wild Berries by Julie Flett (Cree Metis)

Sharice’s Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes A Congresswoman by Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk)


Author Bio

Originally from Washington state, Deanna Butler received her BA in Archaeological Sciences from the University of Washington in 2014. Deanna moved to Florida in 2016. Soon, she began working for the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Deanna was the THPO’s Archaeological Collections Assistant from 2017-2021. While at the THPO, Deanna worked to preserve, support, and process the Tribe’s archaeological collection. She often wrote the popular Artifact of the Month series and worked on many community and educational outreach programs. She lives in Lakeland, FL with her husband, two sons, and dog.

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