Title: The Story of Salt
Author: Mark Kurlansky
Illustrator: S. D. Schindler
Publication Info: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2006
Intended audience: Ages 7 and up
Genre: nonfiction, picture book
Themes/topics: world history, economics
Opening and synopsis: “It began a few years ago with a rock I bought in a small mountain town in Spain. The rock had pink surfaces with streaks of white and brown. Though it was not a diamond or an emerald or a ruby, it was beautiful. Yet it was only salt.”
Are you ready to learn about the rise and fall of world civilizations? Then follow the salt trade through the ages, for he who controlled the salt, controlled the world. Salt built the Great Wall of China; during the Tang dynasty, half of the Chinese government’s funds came from salt. Mahatma Gandhi’s symbolic Salt March spurred Indian independence. And even in the United States, many towns were settled close to sources of salt.
Why I like this book: As a college history major, I love well-written hi-“stories,” especially those with such a narrow focus but broad historical impact. Kurlansky originally wrote “Salt: A World History” for grown ups in 2003, which I haven’t read….yet. However, for upper elementary, this is a fantastic story of how trade, commerce and the wrestle for resources lie at the center of so many wars and power struggles.
Resources: Eat a meal featuring salt-cured foods and discuss how salt allowed people to preserve food and travel far from home to trade. Think cheese, sauerkraut, pickles, ham, bacon, salt fish. You can make your own pickles using several recipes, but here’s one from Alton Brown at The Food Network. You could try your hand at making your own salt from seawater or saltwater you’ve prepared. Just pour it in a shallow bowl or plate and place it in the sun for several days. The GastroGnome has a stove-top recipe here. In my experience, children love mummies, and salt was vital to the mummification process. Discovery Kids has a mummy-maker game here.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.