Recently, at the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, I learned about a group organized to promote diversity in books. In my view, diversity is anything new and different from my own life. Cultures, countries, past, present, yes, even future. The list is endless. All fascinate me.
SALT, A Story of Friendship in a Time of War, by Helen Frost, Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013
This well researched novel in verse is set in the Indiana Territory in late summer of 1812. It is told from the point of view of two twelve year old boys who are like many boys their age today, content to spend their time hunting, fishing, and exploring the forest around their homes.
Anikwa’s ancestors have lived in the Miami village of Kekionga for centuries. James is the son of a trader who sells supplies to both the Native American community and the soldiers and their families who live inside the fort known as Fort Wayne. Salt is one of the most prized commodities for both sides of the stockade.
Such a peaceful picture changes when the British and Americans lay claim to the land of Anikwa’s forefathers. Warring factions assemble. James’s father must close his trading post and move his family inside the fort. The supply of salt ends abruptly for the Miami tribe.
The boys, who are fictional, tell their stories in a distinct verse form. The author tells us Anikwa’s poems are “shaped like patterns of Miami ribbon work,” James’s poems began as an image of the stripes on an American flag. In the author’s words, “As I discovered the two voices, the pulse-like shape of Anikwa’s poems wove through the horizontal lines of James’s poems, and the two voices created something new that held the story as it opened out.” Here and there, as if to bring out the flavor of the boys’ friendship and surroundings, the author places poems about salt, how the deer leads man to find it, how man uses it, and how it tastes in the tears of those impacted by war.
Helen Frost is the award winning author of Keesha’s House, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book, and Diamond Willow which won the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. She lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
A glossary of Miami (Myaamia) words is included and the author gives credit and thanks to the Myaamia Center a rich source of maps, language, and historical and cultural information located at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
This is a diverse book. I think we need more. What do you think?