• Happy Birthday Paul Fleishman, (Bull Run, Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, Seedfolks).
  • It’s the birthdate of the Wild West outlaw Jesse James (1847-1882).
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac was published on this day in 1957.
  • The first ever Labor Day parade is held in New York City, 1882. Read Parade by Donald Crews.
  • It’s Be Late for Something Day. But please get your books back to the library on time!

On September 5, 1812, the siege of Fort Wayne, Indiana, began, one of the incidents in the War of 1812. As a child growing up in Fort Wayne, I always thought that important American events happened elsewhere, in towns like Boston. And I believed that the Miami people, who had lived for centuries in the area, no longer existed. So when I picked up Helen Frost’s Salt, I was simply stunned at how wrong I had been.

In Salt Helen explores the events of 1812 by introducing us to two very appealing twelve-year-old boys, James Gray, son of the local trader, and Anikwa, a Miami. Together they explore the wonders of the outdoor world and delight in the wildlife. But as the tensions that lead to the Siege of Fort Wayne mount, the relationship between the Miami and the settlers deteriorates. In one terrible scene, James’s father denies salt to the Native Americans—people who have helped and supported the Gray family—at his trading post.

All feel the horror of an approaching war. Anikwa’s grandmother says, “I’ve always hoped . . . , /that you would not become a man /in a time of war.” Although a major battle never occurs, the Miami longhouses are destroyed and everything burnt to the ground. Even when they begin reconstructing their lives, everyone knows that even if James and Anikwa can still find a way to stay friends these events have changed the community forever.

Salt works as a novel because Helen Frost makes readers care about the two protagonists. With keen attention to poetic form, she chooses each word precisely, presenting everything in her exquisite prose. And she has built the book on extensive research. For over twenty years, since moving to Fort Wayne, Indiana, she has been learning about the history and present-day culture of the Miami people. With her husband, Chad Thompson, a linguist specializing in Native American languages, she has attended cultural events and academic conferences and has enjoyed the friendship of many Miami people. Consequently, Salt exhibits the best attributes of historical fiction—a sense of history, a sense of story, and a sense of audience.

This tale of friendship and harmony lost between the settlers and the native people, recreated again and again in so many areas of the United States, is truly a sad one. I cried when I finished Salt, because finally as an adult I read a book where the history of my hometown had been given importance and meaning. While my response was deeply personal, I would recommend this book to anyone hunting for superb Midwestern historical fiction. For others Salt not only captures history but also explores the fragility of relationships between cultures. It vividly reminds us what can be lost when we look at the world through only one prism.

Here’s a page from Salt:

Salt image


Originally posted September 5, 2013. Updated for .

Tags: History, Multicultural, Native American, War of 1812
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Salt


  1. G. Perry says:

    I know two people from Fort Wayne, one is Anita.

    This sounds like a great read.

    I’m out to find it!

  2. Anita says:

    Gordon: Always glad to lead you to a new book.

  3. Linda Elsner says:

    Well, you’ve done it again! I’ve never read Helen Frost, but now I will (and have just ordered the pbk ed of “Salt”)!
    Always on the lookout for stories with authentic Native American characters/history. Thanks for the review.

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