Ordering wine, coffee and dessert just got easier now that I have the right words!
Credit S. Winston

My Duolingo app French education has finally gotten to the good stuff–food! With only eleven days until my departure, I’m pretty confident that I will NOT remember all the correct masculine and feminine cases, but I will be remember that “cafe” is “coffee”; “biere” is “beer”; and “pain” doesn’t have to hurt, it just has to taste good because means bread.


…and this is what I’ve learned:

Trois voitures

Deux pizzas

and I know that orange is feminine.

With twelve days remaining before I set off for Paris, I’ve been hard at work studying French on Duolingo. I am officially in a panic.

Indeed, I’ve learned over two-hundred-fifty words. I can say “I want” (je veux) and “I have” (j’ai). I know how to say phrases, such as, “I have three cars” (J’ai trois voitures).”

But, I’m not certain that will help me check into the hotel. It probably won’t even get me a ride from l’aeroport.

What’s worse is when I get frustrated and my mind starts to search for the correct word or phrase, it defaults to the only foreign language it know–Spanish. And if you knew how poor my Spanish was, you’d know how much trouble I’m in.

I’ve been in love with the idea of Paris since I was a kid. I learned a lot of cool phrases while I was writing Jada Sly, Artist & Spy. The idea of creating an African American girl born in New York, who lived in France for five years, was like putting my own childhood fantasy on paper.

Sherri Winston on writing Jada Sly, Artist & Spy

The spy part, too. I always wanted to be a spy. (My mom said soon as someone tickled my tummy, I’d giggle and give up all the secrets. Mom was a dream killer.)

I’ve got twelve more days. That’s all. I can’t become fluent in the time I have left, but perhaps I can manage not to humiliate myself while asking for le metro.

A bientôt!

(That means “see you soon!)

DAY THREE: I’m trying

Looking forward to the future.

The impetus for my upcoming Paris trip is just fulfilling a lifelong dream. I’ve always rejected the concept of “A bucket list,” yet I am conscious of wanting to start this next chapter of my life before …well, I kick the bucket.

My mom was a tough woman. A smart, fiery, determined woman who loved her kids with the ferocity of a mama lion. She had so many plans for her life—a life she kept waiting and waiting to begin.

Mommy died Christmas of her 56th year on this earth. That Christmas is fast approaching for me. I needed to celebrate her life and mine by no longer waiting, but acting.

Here’s to you “ma mere.” And to all the hard-working mamas out there with hopes and dreams. I’m going to parlez vous my butt off!


In twenty-one days, I take my first European vacation. I feel like Chevy Chase! Paris here I come.

It’s been a life-long dream to travel to France. I even created a character in my newest book—Jada Sly, Artist & Spy—who lived for five years in Bordeaux, France, before moving back to her hometown, my other favorite city in the world, New York City.

I’ve been immersing myself in all that is ooo-la-la. Back over the summer, I started using the Duo Lingo app to study French. It’s a great app, but with only weeks left until time for me to leave, I realized I wasn’t learning fast enough. It’s a solid learning tool, but unless I bump into Paul or Marie and want to use their “voiture” (car), I need more help.

I’ve added Mango languages to my learning repertoire. Now I can sound like a bumbling American on two separate platforms!

To keep myself on my toes, every day between now and departure I will post updates on my preparations. I thought it would be fun to share details of my upcoming departure as well as fun details about my favorite young spy, Jada Sly. Until tomorrow, bonsoir!

The Baddest Chick

Poster from new biopic Harriet. A movie that entertains, inspires and is sure to ignite discussion.

So, I’ve heard that Black Twitter has drawn swords over the recent biopic, Harriet. Well, too bad. I like it. A lot. And I think you and your family will enjoy it, too. Here’s why:

1. Rather than focusing most of the story on the well-trod story theme of slavery’s brutality—which it does not gloss over—the focus is on Harriet and her journey. Her fight! It highlights the truly bad assness of this woman, who upon securing her own freedom, went back and helped free family, friends and strangers.

2. One angry Twitterer remarked on the inclusion of a black slave catcher was sacrilege and lacked historical accuracy. Um, it’s a movie about events in the 1800s. Was Twitter there? I have never seen any historical movie that made me feel it was one-hundred percent accurate. Black overseers did exist. Did black slave catchers, too? I don’t know. But I’m going to look into it. Not to prove the filmmakers wrong, but because it brought up a thought-provoking subject. I want to know. 

If this movie motivates one child or adult—black or white—to use Google for something other than Fortnite, to actually go in search of facts and truths, it would a beautiful thing.

3. The movie is well-acted, fast-paced despite a two-hour runtime. 

I’ve never been a big fan of slave narratives. Being a black kid and avid reader, well-meaning teachers and librarians were always trying to get me to read books that extolled the sorrows and tragedies of slavery. When I complained to my mother that I wished I could find more books about contemporary black girls. Stories about girls like me, living in working class neighborhoods with factory-working fathers. Girls who wanted to grow up to be journalists or advertisers or artists; who wished they could ride horses or become cheerleaders. My mother took a long draw on her Kool cigarette and said, “Well, Sherri Denise, I guess if that’s what you want, you’ll just have write it yourself.” 

Years later, I’ve been able to do just that. History and contemporary fiction both have value. So do fictionalized versions of historical characters and events.

If you’ve heard the negative hashtags about Harriet and think you know the story, think again. The movie is a good conversation starter. A great reminder of how far we’ve come as a society and how truly brave people living in slavery and escaping slavery had to be. Go see it. Keep an open mind. Google some stuff afterwards if you have questions. Dare I suggest, even stop in at your local library. 

But don’t boycott this film because a few self-serving, self-righteous folks have decided they own black history and anyone who differs from their narrative is deserves to be socially whipped. I used to review movies for a living while writing entertainment for Tribune’s Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Know what I learned? It’s not genius work, being a critic. You take a few hours, dissect someone else work, and subject it to your point of view. 

Mama was right. If you don’t like it, do something else. Do it better. Until then, it’s the right time to start a conversation about black history and slavery that centers around empowerment, struggle, perseverance and redemption. But don’t let me keep you. I think you’ve got a movie to see.