WOW Review: Volume XV, Issue 4

Two different family kitchens are shown, one above the title and one below.Let Me Fix You a Plate: A Tale of Two Kitchens
Written & Illustrated by Elizabeth Lilly
Neal Porter Books, 2021, 40 pp
ISBN: 978-0823443253

As a child of Greek and Mexican descent, the exploration of two distinct cultures, American and Colombian in Let Me Fix You a Plate: A Tale of Two Kitchens, especially resonated with me due to my own Greek and Mexican heritage. Readers follow along as a young girl travels with her parents and two sisters first to her father’s family house in the mountains of West Virginia, and then her mother’s family house in the tropical heat of Florida. Readers observe the protagonist and her family packing up their belongings for the trip, with the comic addition of an elephant atop a pile of clothes in one suitcase.

The main character sets the scene for their departure, saying that they always leave once a year on a Friday night. After driving for hours and hours, they arrive at Mamaw and Papaw’s home in the mountains of West Virginia where they are greeted warmly at the door and offered a plate of food. In the morning they have sausage and toast with blackberry jam, while her father and Papaw drink coffee from two identical cups. Later, the girl and her sisters help their Mamaw make banana pudding in the kitchen. The family’s journey continues south to Abuela and Abuelo’s home in Florida, where they are also offered food once they arrive. There are many family members conversing with one another in Spanish and the setting is more animated in contrast to Mamaw and Papaw’s place. The girl picks oranges off trees, makes arepas, eats crunchy tostones, and watches her parents dance and salsa the night away. Finally, it’s time for her and her family to go back home. As they drive back, she reflects on her time spent at each residence and all the types of food and culture she experienced. No matter what culture, her family members are tight knit and have much love for one another. The story ends with the girl and her sisters falling asleep in their individual beds at their own house.

Lilly’s pen and ink drawings are vividly gestural with a light line quality akin to illustrator Jules Feiffer, and they convey a wide range of emotions in each scene and family home. Most of the illustrations take up the whole page, but there are some that are contained within graphic panels on a page, such as when the girl’s Abuelo is teaching her words in Spanish, or when they are saying goodbye to her Abuela (readers can see her in the car looking out the window). The colors effectively show the warmth and love between the families, as well as the deliciously rich selection of food available to eat in both kitchens.

Educators can use Let Me Fix You a Plate in the classroom to help students increase their vocabulary and knowledge of different cuisines and reflect and discuss their own family’s cultural traditions. To expand on these lessons, this text would pair well with Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story written by Kevin Noble Maillard and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (2019) and Dumpling Day written by Meera Sriram and illustrated by Inés de Antuñano (2021), which both highlight the diversity and uniqueness of food and family.

In addition to being an author and illustrator, Elizabeth Lilly is also an animator and educator. She celebrates her identity as a lesbian, biracial Colombian Latina and expresses the joy of finding herself in her work. Her first book, Geraldine, featuring an anthropomorphic girl giraffe trying to find her place in a new school with actual humans, was published in 2018 by Roaring Brook Press. She has received starred reviews in Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal, and her work has been honored and won numerous awards including the 2018 Junior Library Guild (JLG) selection, the Charlotte Zolotow Honor for picturebook writing, and the 2021 list of ALA Notable books. Lilly currently lives in Takoma Park, Maryland with her partner and their dog, Ponyo. Her work can be further explored on her website.

Anastasia Kirages, Texas Woman’s University

© 2023 by Anastasia Kirages

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WOW review: reading across cultures
ISSN 2577-0527