French Milk

Knisley, Lucy. French Milk . New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007.



**"This comic journal details a mother and daughter's month-long stay in a small apartment in the fifth arrondissement . Lucy is grappling with the onslaught of adulthood. Her mother faces fifty. They are both dealing with their shifting relationship. All the while, they navigate Paris with halting French and dog-eared guidebooks."**

Turning fifty and nearing college graduation are huge milestones in the lives of this mother / daughter duo. So what do Lucy and her mother decide to do to appropriately commemorate the occasion? Well, take a trip to Paris, bien sur ! And where else in Paris other than the fashionable and foodie friendly fifth arrondissement would a chef and her daughter go? Well, nowhere, evidemment ! Too bad we don't get to hear an enthralling depiction of a meal at the ever famous La Tour d'Argent .

In her animated journal, Lucy Knisley brings us into her twenty-two year old Parisian world, complete with snippets addressing her evolving relationship with her mother, young love with her boyfriend, a nagging feeling of homesickness despite being ecstatic to be in Paris, anxiety regarding her graduation and future, and her unbiased palate and love for creamy French milk. Considering that this is Knisley's first work to blend food and travel writing together, we must commend her on a job well done. Though a bit transparent at times, she manages to touch on those things we anticipate without appearing overly cliche all while introducing us to her personal experiences and making them accessible to the general audience with her clever cartooning skills.

For me, the themes of particular intrigue in this book are the parent / adult child relationship, the fear of entering a new phase in life and potentially failing, and the introduction to food as a product of a culture. While it may seem to be quite a stretch to include this book in the high-school canon, I feel it has the potential to speak to adolescents, abstractly, about topics that are currently or soon will be affecting them, along with topics of interest. Though presented through the lens of a young woman in her early twenties, these more generic themes can be pulled from Lucy's real life experiences.

She gives the reader a glimpse into the changing roles of her and her mother as they evolve from caregiver and child to advice giver and young adult stating,
"Then, when mom tried to talk to me about financial responsibility while we were walking by the sales, I had a total panic-attack, and walked home sobbing and hyperventilating. Followed by a horrible headache."
It's a true depiction of how many of us have felt leaving the safe nest of our parents' home or our college lifestyle and lends itself nicely to discussions on the changing parent / child dynamic during the teen years. With an increase in personal and social freedom, our adolescent students are grappling with their own changing expectations of their parents along with their parents' changing expectations of them.

She also gives the non-foodie laymen a sneak-peak into the world of French duck or goose liver pate when she dedicates an entire page to foie gras, writing,
"Chicago banned the selling of foie gras last year. It's made by force-feeding a good or duck so their livers become fatty and engorged. (and delicious) Yes, it's cruel, but in terms of **slaughterhouse** rituals, it's comparatively better than some - the geese live **free range** until their last couple of weeks, when they are fed to immobility. I'd rather go like that then to be raised in a tiny box in some dark room, like in most American poultry places... There is so much foie gras in Paris."
In an age filled with films such as Supersize Me and Food, Inc., major strides toward greater awareness of what we eat and where it comes from are increasingly becoming a part of everyday life. We see this when we grocery shop or go out for meals and we are offered increasing amounts of organic food , vegetarian meals and vegan products, and a steep decrease in the interest of genetically modified food products. This lends itself nicely to both conversations on this very topic as well as discussions of food as a product of culture.

While at times the book touches on some topics that may seem taboo for the English classroom (i.e. sex and Lucy's addiction to smoking cigarettes), the book remains fairly risk-free and contains no profanity. If it were a film and I were to give it a rating, I would assign it as PG 13. Lucy's diary-like, brief, and animated entries prove an easy and quick read for adolescents. Her writing does in fact closely mimic the spoken word and she further promotes that in her unconventional use of punctuation. This book may very well be an example on how to attack a casual personal narrative writing assignment and, in excerpts, allow teachers to reinforce units on those themes previously mentioned in this review.


Despite the fact that readers will undoubtedly contest using this book in a traditional secondary English classroom, potentially writing it off as merely a charming travel log, I still feel that specific excerpts from the book, coupled with their illustrations, can truly speak to some of our students' needs. Finding those excerpts and using them as supplementary resources should be an easy task. They can easily be implemented, separately, as one page comics to add to the theme of a conceptual unit. I've already discussed the themes I see fit for the classroom and touched on some passages that demonstrate those themes, but as a French teacher who has previously taught a course on the interconnectedness of culture and cuisine, I would like to largely focus on the theme of food as a product of culture.

Knisley gives us outlets for discussing culture in its own right, as well as how cuisine reflects particular cultures and what we can learn from that interconnectedness.
She introduces us to the French preference of shopping for and eating fresh ingredients from local vendors when she tells us about the repeat grocery shopping that her and her mother do "on Rue Moufftard, a little street of food markets." This lends itself well to discussions on buying locally produced items versus nationally or internationally imported products.
She introduces us to the link between France and Morocco when she describes her experience at a Moroccan restaurant, stating
"At the Moroccan restaurant where we had dinner. The place is in an actual mosque !", and, "Mom got cous-cous , and I got a tagine , which is like a roasted stew thing. Mine was chicken with prunes and almonds." With this excerpt we have a number of possible topics to discover and discuss such as the relationship between food and religion, the after effects of colonialism , and food and terroir .

It goes without saying that there are plenty of opportunities to integrate other excerpts that are not related to food or the aforementioned themes discussed in my review of the book. There are opportunities to integrate excerpts that touch on cultural diversity and cross cultural sensitivity being that nearly the entire book takes place in a Western European country which, in the United States, has a reputation for housing a culture that greatly differs from our own despite the fact that its people, at first glance, appear to closely resemble the demographic body of American citizens. There is also the opportunity to integrate this book into a study on graphic novels at large.

All in all, I feel this book would best serve as a supplementary resource to a larger conceptual unit. Be it theme based or genre based, the secondary English teacher can easily pull varied excerpts to support these larger concepts and introduce them in a new, fresh way.


Lucy_Knisley.jpg wiki/File:Lucy_knisley.jpg

A graduate of both The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and the Center for Cartoon Studies, Miss Knisley is an illustrator, comic artist and author who holds an MFA . During her studies, she was awarded the honors of winning the ICPA award for Excellence in Illinois College Newspapers (for exceptional cartoon or comic strip), and of finishing as a finalist in the Scripps Howard Foundation 's Charles M. Schulz College Cartoonist Award. In addition to French Milk, her first commercially published book, Knisley also boasts a number self-published works, such as Radiator Days, and has contributed her artistry and/or writing to works written by other authors, such as Searching for Cassady, and a number of comic anthologies, such as Side B and I Saw You.

Though she initially attended SAIC with the intentions of studying painting, she soon turned back to her life-long roots of drawing comics. Pulling inspiration from childhood favorite comics Archie, Calvin and Hobbes, and Tintin, Knisley draws her comics in a charmingly familiar cartoon style. Her writing flourished from the comics drawn in her personal journal during a trip to France that she took with her mother, and from there, French Milk and her career as an author were born. She now considers herself an amateur culinary and travel writer. She is currently working on another comic which further details food and documents her life growing up with a chef for a mother. Miss Knisley was born in New York City in 1985, but now resides in Chicago where she draws, writes and teaches a weekly comics class to children aged eight to eleven at a local elementary school. She tends to create autobiographical works and tends to write in the third-person. She can be reached at


Here's an video review of the book :

See all Travel Guides reviews at Expotv

Here's the C2E2 video interview of Lucy Knisely :


--French Lindsey. (See some more of my work by clicking on this link to a review on Punkzilla .)