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.)
French Toast, by Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by François Thisdale, published by Pajama Press, 2016. $19.95 (has a dust jacket).
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.)