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French Toast

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Winters, Kari-Lynn. (2016). Illustrated by François Thisdale. French Toast. Toronto: Pajama Press. 32 pages. ISBN 978-1772780062. Originally posted in draft form at abespeanut.com, later revised and published by Pajama Press (2016).


About

Plot:

Phoebe—half Jamaican, half French-Canadian―hates her school nickname of “French Toast.” So she is mortified when, out on a walk with her Jamaican grandmother, she hears a classmate shout it out at her. To make things worse, Nan-Ma, who is blind, wants an explanation of the name. How can Phoebe describe the color of her skin to someone who has never seen it? “Like tea, after you’ve added the milk,” she says. And her father? “Like warm banana bread.” And Nan-Ma herself? She is like maple syrup poured over…well…

In French Toast, Kari-Lynn Winters uses descriptions of favorite foods from both of Phoebe’s cultures to celebrate the varied skin tones of her family. François Thisdale’s imaginative illustrations fill the landscape with whimsy and mouthwatering delight as Phoebe realizes her own resilience and takes ownership of her nickname proudly.

Author and Illustrator:

Kari-Lynn Winters is an author, poet, and performer. With over sixteen picture and poetry books published, she has won the British Columbia Book Prize silver medal twice, and been nominated numerous times for the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize and the Chocolate Lily Awards. Bad Pirate won the Rainforest of Reading Award. Kari-Lynn loves being in the classroom and now teaches drama in education at Brock University. She lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.

François Thisdale’s work blends traditional drawing and painting with digital imagery. He is the illustrator of The Stamp Collector, which is on IBBY Honor List, and That Squeak, an honour book for the IBBY Canada Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Picture Book Award. He has also won a Notable Books for a Global Society Award and the Crystal Kite Award, and been a finalist for the TD Children’s Book Award and the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator’s Award. François lives in Montreal, Quebec.


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Reviews

    “French Toast – Perfect Picture Book Friday” by Maria Marshall in Connecting Kids with Nature (March 3, 2017), online at mariacmarshall.com:

    The cover initially drew me to this book. Who can resist the maple syrup running over the French toast? The love on the faces of the girl and her grandma was so captivating, I had to see what it was about. This is one of those books where the illustrations and text remained with me long after I closed the cover. I hope you enjoy it too.

    In French Toast, Kari-Lynn Winters uses descriptions of favorite foods from both of Phoebe’s cultures to celebrate the varied skin tones of her family. François Thisdale’s imaginative illustrations fill the landscape with whimsy and mouthwatering delight as Phoebe realizes her own resilience and takes ownership of her nickname proudly.

    Why I like this book:

    Though we all see skin tones and our cultural terminology changes and defines how we interact with each other, I have never heard or thought about describing a skin tone based of favorite foods. Chocolate, peach pie, rye bread, banana bread, or maple syrup. This book made me question why we say “white,” when most actually resemble peach yogurt, toasted coconut, or cinnamon honey.

    This is a beautiful story of a blended family and a child coming to terms with her mixed heritage. Learning to be proud of what makes her special. As another layer, Thisdale added a cat for the listeners (readers) to find as they read. Delicious illustrations of food and ingredients engage the senses as the story gently and joyfully engages the heart. This is a great story to help open a conversation about diversity, self perceptions, race, and bullying.

    Related Activities:

    • Think of other foods, flowers, or even crayons that could be used to describe skin tones.
    • Using brushes, or bottles filled with water, blend various colors. (Peach and black, yellow and brown) Talk about blended families and breakfast image at the end of the book.
    • For some anti-bullying activities, see http://bullyproofclassroom.com/great-anti-bullying-activities

    “Lost and Found on the Bookshelf,” by Margriet Ruurs, in The International Educator (2017 February), p. 40, online at academia.edu/30287815/Intended_and_Unintended_Outcomes_of_Offering_the_IB:

    When you are blind, you don’t see skin color and you truly know that everyone is the same. Phoebe doesn’t like it when kids from school call “Hey, French Toast!” or tease her for her accent. Her Nan-ma is blind and asks Phoebe to describe the colors of family and friends. Their talk helps Phoebe to look at things in a different light. Phoebe’s mom is “stirred peach yogurt.” Her dad is like warm banana bread. Phoebe discovers that Nan-ma doesn’t even know her own skin color until she tells her it is like maple syrup. Suddenly being called French Toast isn’t so bad anymore, especially when a chocolate-spread girl of color from school wants to play with Phoebe.


    Review by Isobel Lang in Resource Links:

    Phoebe’s father is Jamaican and her mother is French Canadian. Some of her school friends have given her the nickname of French Toast which she hates. One day while walking with her blind Jamaican Grandmother, a child calls out to her Hey, French Toast. Her wise grandmother Nan-ma asks Phoebe why the children call her French Toast. Phoebe explains that it was because of her skin colour. Then Nan-ma asks Phoebe to describe their whole family’s skin colour.

    Phoebe begins to picture everyone using some of her favourite foods both Jamaican and French Canadian. She characterizes her own skin tone as tea & milk. Her mother’s skin is like stirred peach yogurt etc. By the end of her depictions, Phoebe discovers that she likes who she is!

    A gentle loving explanation of how everyone has different skin tones expressed in warm delicious ways. Bullying is part of the story but Phoebe’s approach of not letting her bullies know that their nickname bothers her helps to defuse any power they have over her.

    The illustrations are beautiful and the illustrator does beautiful portraits of his characters using digital media and acrylic.

    The tale leaves you with feelings of warmth and hungry due to constant descriptions of mouth-watering food. The author explains the concept of diversity in a positive life affirming way that children and adults will appreciate.

    Thematic Links: Grandmothers; Self-esteem; Bullying; Racially Mixed People; Identity; Diversity; Immigration; Blindness


    Review by Laura Fabiani (and her son) in Library of Clean Reads (November 11, 2016), online at libraryofcleanreads.com/2016/11/french-toast-by-kari-lynn-winters.html:

    Phoebe―half Jamaican, half French-Canadian―hates her school nickname of “French Toast.” So she is mortified when, out on a walk with her Jamaican grandmother, she hears a classmate shout it out at her. To make things worse, Nan-Ma, who is blind, wants an explanation of the name. How can Phoebe describe the color of her skin to someone who has never seen it? “Like tea, after you’ve added the milk,” she says. And her father? “Like warm banana bread.” And Nan-Ma herself? She is like maple syrup poured over…well…

    In French Toast, Kari-Lynn Winters uses descriptions of favorite foods from both of Phoebe’s cultures to celebrate the varied skin tones of her family. François Thisdale’s imaginative illustrations fill the landscape with whimsy and mouthwatering delight as Phoebe realizes her own resilience and takes ownership of her nickname proudly.

    “Even though Nan-ma’s blind, she sees things others do not.”

    And so begins this book whose message to be proud of one’s culture and nationality shines through. Phoebe has a good relationship with her grandmother who is blind. On weekends she is her neighborhood guide. As a mother, I liked that this story included a grandma and her wisdom. When Phoebe has to explain why the boys from school yelled out, “Hey, French Toast!” to her, she is embarrassed because she knows it’s because of the color of her skin.

    Since her grandmother has never known the colors of skin, she asks Phoebe what color her skin is. So Phoebe describes it like tea after milk is added. And so the story continues. With Nan-ma’s gentle prodding, Phoebe gets to talk and think about her parents. She explores in her mind what she loves about them, her childhood, her favorite foods and her mixed nationality.

    Living in Quebec, we are very familiar with the French-Canadian culture and mixed marriages among the very diverse ethnic groups that live here. My son and I enjoyed this story and we liked its message. It’s a book that should resonate well with children living in Quebec and perfect to introduce others to a culture that embraces mixed marriages. Children need to feel proud of who they are and where they come from. Using food to bring out the beautiful qualities of a culture works well. My son and I were getting hungry reading this book!

    The illustrations use earth-tone colors and are soft. They are a mix of digital media and acrylic. What this means is that they are a mix of real-life photos with the drawings. So, the faces of the characters, for example, are actual real photos but blended in with the drawings. My son noticed it right from the first page and told me he is not fond of this technique. I had to look more closely. In the end, we agreed that the way the illustrator blended the two worked well and also the way he highlighted the food and brought it out in the illustrations was unique.

    This book would make a great addition to a home or school library. It is an excellent way to introduce new cultures and to open the discussion of how to embrace who we are.


    Review by Helen K. in CanLit for Little Canadians (Dec. 14, 2016), online at canlitforlittlecanadians.blogspot.ca:

    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.

    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.

    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.


    “Merry and bright: No shortage of gift options for young readers of all ages,” by Helen Norrie in Winnipeg Free Press (Dec. 10, 2016), online at winnipegfreepress.com:

    … This is a delightful picture book from an Ontario writer that celebrates the joys of diversity. Phoebe dislikes the nickname she’s called at school, “French toast,” reflecting her mixed heritage of French-Canadian and Jamaican backgrounds. But when her blind grandmother points out the skin colours of her family and her friends can be described as some of her favourite foods: warm banana bread, tea with milk, chocolate hazelnut spread, she realizes “French toast” can be a compliment.

    Montreal artist François Tisdale’s illustrations, in warm brown colours of honey and maple syrup, help make this little book delicious. …


    “French Toast by Kari-Lynn Winters is a delicious treat,” by Joyce Grant (Nov. 25 2016), online at gkreading.com/2016/11/french-toast-kari-lynn-winters-delicious-treat:

    French Toast is a delicious treat of a picture book that lets you explore a sophisticated topic in a way that is helpful and positive, but not simplistic.

    In the schoolyard, Phoebe gets called a name, French Toast, because of the colour of her skin. She is embarrassed and experiences what she perceives as a “slight” in the way that most of us would — she wants to absorb the shock and just pretend it didn’t happen. Let it slide off.

    But she can’t, because her grandmother wants to know more. And Phoebe loves her grandmother enough to conquer her embarrassment and fear, and allow the “insult” to be aired.

    As she describes her family’s various skin tones to her blind grandmother, using descriptions of foods from the Jamaican and French-Canadian sides of her family. As she describes the colours, we all — Phoebe, us as a parent, our child — come to see the deliciousness of our differences, until the hated nickname only remains hurtful to one person: the person who said it in the first place.

    This is a slow unravelling of racism and bullying and how we see ourselves. A slow unravelling, as only the best picture books can do. French Toast is a meal you will want to go back to, and savour with your child, again and again. You will get something different from it each time you share it.

    The illustrations, by François Thisdale, are warm and, while they seem perfectly normal on first glance, are surprisingly, deliciously, quirky (often, for instance, the sizes of things are just a bit — or sometimes a lot — out of scale). Stunning. And the text flows like warm maple syrup. French Toast will warm you up. (Okay, I’m done with the extended food metaphor — plus, now I’m hungry.)

    Disclaimer: I know Kari-Lynn personally. (But that’s definitely not why I wrote this, and I believe it didn’t affect my review. This is a truly stunning picture book that I highly recommend.)


    Review by Cynthia O’Brien in Quill & Quire (Oct. 2016), online at www.quillandquire.com/review/french-toast:

    It’s not easy feeling different, especially when it seems all the other kids fit in. Two new picture books gently and playfully take on these insecurities and turn them into celebrations of diversity.

    In French Toast, Kari-Lynn Winters explores racism in the story of a half-French-Canadian, half -Jamaican girl named Phoebe. While out for a walk with her grandmother, Phoebe cringes when she hears her school nickname, “French Toast.” How can she explain to Nan-ma, who is blind, that the nickname refers to Phoebe’s skin colour? Sensing Phoebe’s distress, Nan-ma asks her granddaughter to describe the colours of people’s skin. Phoebe’s descriptions serve up some tantalizing comparisons: her mother’s skin looks “like stirred peach yogurt” and her father’s is “like warm banana bread.” As she hits her stride, she notices that the kids playing basketball have skin the colour of “toasted coconut and cinnamon honey,” and a friendly girl from school has skin like “chocolate hazelnut spread.” Ultimately, Phoebe’s explanations culminate in a delicious breakfast feast of all sorts of colours and flavours, and Phoebe sees herself as a valid part of this mix.

    French Toast looks as delectable as its title, thanks to François Thisdale’s dreamlike illustrations: the landscapes seem to float in the background as giant loaves of banana bread and juicy peaches appear in the foreground.

    With almost 20 books to her credit since her 2007 debut, Jeffrey and Sloth, Winters obviously knows how to write for children. In this effective picture book, she engages her readers’ imaginations – and their stomachs. She also doesn’t dwell on negativity, but spins the story into one of self-affirmation as Phoebe embraces her nickname and the different cultures that make her who she is. Simply told and cleverly imagined, French Toast is a great starting point for talking to young children about race, diversity, and respect.


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