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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 9 months ago

7 October 2013 SALT: A STORY OF FRIENDSHIP IN A TIME OF WAR by Helen Frost, Farrar Straus & Giroux, July 2013, 160p., ISBN: 978-0-374-36387-1 


"I wonder who they are, the men who really run this land

And I wonder why they run it with such a thoughtless hand

What are their names and on what streets do they live

I'd like to ride right over this afternoon and give

Them a piece of my mind

About peace and mankind

Peace is not an awful lot to ask"

--David Crosby, Neil Young, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Michael Shrieve (1971)




All this smoke is choking me.  What's going on?  Pa comes in with food,

but not 'cause he went hunting.  He puts it on the table -- deer meat, corn,


maple sugar.  And then a copper pot.  The fiddle that belongs to Old Raccoon.

Pa, I ask, who gave this to you?  He answers: No one.  They've all gone away.


I took this from Old Raccoon's house before the soldiers set it on fire.  Pa stole

from our friends?  He slumps into a chair.  Ma brings him water,


and we wait for him to tell us what's happening.  Ma keeps coughing.

Her eyes are all red.  Might be from the smoke, but it's also from crying.


Pa starts talking: As far as I can tell, almost everyone in Kekionga left before

the army got here.  Probably went to a village west of here.  When the General


couldn't find anyone to fight, he said, 'We'll make sure no one comes back later

to cause trouble.'  Ma objects, But most of the people in Kekionga don't even want


to fight this war!  Pa nods.  I know that.  You know that.  I couldn't stop them, Lydia.

I ask, How will they make new houses before winter?  Pa mutters, That is the idea."


In reading SALT: A STORY OF FRIENDSHIP IN A TIME OF WAR, Helen Frost's verse novel about a pair of twelve year-olds living in the shadows of Fort Wayne in 1812, I have lost some respect for President James Madison. 


Madison, when he was in his thirties, was instrumental in the drafting of the U.S. Constitution; was an author of The Federalist Papers (which were key to gaining state-by-state ratification of the Constitution); and was then also responsible for drafting the Bill of Rights -- the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  Truly amazing guy and Founding Father, right?


But I believe that the Commander in Chief is ultimately responsible for what happens "on the ground" in a war, and I cannot imagine that the atrocities perpetuated against the fictional members of the Miami tribe we meet here, who lived near Fort Wayne, and perpetuated against Mother Nature, as we also learn in this tale, were unique occurrences during the War of 1812.  Helen Frost has spent a lot of time researching the historical background for this story, so you can bet that this stuff really happened. 


And so, in my eyes, Madison, who was President from 1809 until 1817 becomes one more wealthy slave owner, albeit a brilliant-minded, wealthy slave owner, who became President and let American troops run amuck.  "You break it, you own it."  I said this about George W. Bush and his wars.  I think it's logical that I hold James Madison to the same standard.


Now, I need to make it very clear that President James Madison is not part of, nor ever mentioned in this story.  But I was so caught up in the guy friendship aspect and then so moved with grief in reading the later portions of this historical fiction story, that I found myself pondering at length about who was responsible for what happens here. 


What this story is about are those two aforementioned twelve year-olds from whose points of view the story is told.  Anikwa is a member of the Miami tribe living in the village called Kekionga, close to Fort Wayne.  James Gray is the son of the owner of the trading post that is situated within the stockade adjoining the Fort.  The two boys are good friends who frequently hang out together, and there is such richness in their intercultural connection.  The parents know one another through the commerce that takes place at the trading post.  This knowing one another leads James' parents to being more enlightened than the other white folks we meet here and, in turn, James is open and trusting of the residents of Kekionga (in sharp contrast to another white boy, Isaac, who we also come to know).


Helen Frost always employs fascinating poetry forms in her verse novels.  Here, Anikwa's poems are shaped like patterns of Miami ribbon work, while James' poems are like stripes on the American flag. 


Great historical fiction is well-researched, well-written, moving, and causes one to be interested in further knowledge about the subject.  These are all things that make SALT: A STORY OF FRIENDSHIP IN A TIME OF WAR a great piece of historical fiction.


Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/




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