Among dozens of excellent submissions, one book stood out to the panel of historians, educators, and families: Salt, by Helen Frost. The story weaves a tale of cross-cultural friendship threatened by the War of 1812. Written in verse, Salt is set in the Indiana Territory at the start of the conflict and unfolds through the perspectives of two fictional protagonists: a white boy named James and a Myaamia boy named Anikwa. Through these boys’ experiences, we see how this virtually forgotten war affected relationships between individuals and the survival of indigenous people in the young United States.
NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña presented the award to Helen Frost here at N-YHS this past Thursday in front of an audience of hundreds of local students, as you can see below.
Ms. Frost also met with families in our Reading into History family book club this past Saturday for an in-depth discussion of her beautifully told story. She signed participants books, and they all signed one of her copies of the book, too!
If you didn’t make it either event, don’t fret! We recently sat down with author Helen Frost. In our interview, she shared her writing process and the history behind Salt. And don’t forget to pick up a copy of the prize-winning novel Salt at our Museum store.
DiMenna Children’s History Museum: What were you like between the ages of 9 and 12?
Helen Frost: I loved to be outdoors, riding my bike or roller-skating or playing kick-the-can with the neighbor kids after dinner. I was interested in butterflies and wildflowers and moss and lichen. I loved to read and I began to write. Because I am the 5th of ten children, when I was between the ages of 9 and 12, some of my siblings were babies and others were becoming adults.
DCHM: What is your favorite time period in American history? Why?
HF: I’m interested in the way one thing leads to another, and the inter-connection of events. All events are related and continue to affect us. I try to be aware of how and why that is so.
DCHM: What is your favorite place in New York City? Why?
HF: Maybe 19 Union Square West, when it was the address of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I love the memory of my first visit there. So many of my favorite poets and children’s authors had been published by FSG, and it was amazing to see their framed award certificates on the walls, and then to see a long hallway filled with shelves of FSG books, published through the years.
DCHM: What made you want to write Salt?
HF: I came to Fort Wayne, Indiana, after having lived in a small community in Alaska where adults had grown up hearing stories told by those who had experienced the first contact with European-Americans. When I lived there, I was the only non-Native Alaskan in the community, and I became close friends with my neighbors. So when I read about the early history of what is now called Fort Wayne, I was attentive to the friendships I learned about. I thought about what it may have been like for children at that time, and I worked for many years to find a way to tell the story I researched and imagined.
When we learn history, we sometimes think the outcome was inevitable, but it was not. This part of our history could certainly have turned out differently. James’ mother is inspired by a real person, Angelique Chapeteau Peltier, who was famously “unafraid of any of her neighbors” and refused to go to Piqua, Ohio when all the other women and children were evacuated from the fort in early September, 1812. What if everyone had refused to be led by fear, and had treated one another with respect? Even if you accept the inevitability of European arrival, what if treaties had been created out of such mutual respect and their terms had been fully honored? The present-day Myaamia community would be larger and more visible, and the lives of everyone who lives here now would be enriched by the deep knowledge and cultural richness that comes from many generations of living in one place.
DCHM: What words best describe Salt?
HF: complex, far-reaching
The Reading into History family book club is supported by a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post and/or in Reading into History programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.