Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World

11May10

by Mildred Pitts Walter

Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World is about Justin’s struggle in a single-parent household filled with sisters to shape his path to manhood. Justin feels like cleaning and cooking are “woman’s work”, and he wants to part in it.

Luckily, Justin is not completely with an adult African American role model in his life because his grandpa plays an active role in his upbringing. Realizing that Justin’s insecurities about not having a father are resulting in his over-projection of a man-of-the-house mentality, Grandpa takes Justin to stay at his ranch with him.

Initially, Justin believes that this escape to the ranch is the ultimate escape from woman’s work with activities like fishing and horseback riding. When grandpa gives Justin his sheets for his bed and asks him if he can make it himself, Justin defensively responds that he can. Seeing Justin’s labored struggle, Grandpa offers to lend him a hand and show him how it’s really done, and comments “That’s how a man makes a bed.” Through these types of interactions, Grandpa slowly helps Justin realize that

Coinciding with Justin’s own development as a man is Grandpa’s sharing of the family’s history to him, including their past in slavery and struggle for freedom. Grandpa’s believes that Justin must “hear it all because you must know where you’ve come from in order to find where you want to go.”

Novels like this one are an important contribution to children’s literature by providing outlets to children to see African American male protagonists, as well as redefining traditional gender roles.  I thought it was particularly poignant that Justin has these rural experiences on the ranch and is portrayed as a cowboy. This is the first time I have encountered such a portrayal, and I’m glad to see Mildred Pitts Walter felt like it was a worthy contribution.

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