Books, Geography, History

Perfect Picture Book Friday: The Story of Salt

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.

34 thoughts on “Perfect Picture Book Friday: The Story of Salt”

      1. He has a newer one about Birdseye, the man, and the beginnings of frozen food. And believe me, I read so much and couldn’t tell you character and plot for half the books a year later.

  1. I love your choices, Kirsten. With books like these I can so see how Sendak could truly say all he learnt he learnt from children’s books!

  2. What a fabulous historical fiction book. I just love finds like this! I didn’t know the history of salt and the role it played such a role in history. I enjoyed listening to how salt was used throughout the world. Thanks Kirsten. A great selection.

  3. This looks fascinating, Kirsten! My husband read a book called Salt – I’m wondering if it’s the adult version you mentioned? He loved it – still talks about it all the time! 🙂 I’m sl glad to be adding a book on such an interesting topic. Salt is something we all take for granted, but it was a big deal way back when!

    1. I bet it was the same book. Julie Rowan-Zoch originally recommended the “grown up” book, and then when I found the PB version, I couldn’t help myself. I’m interested to see how the two compare.

  4. I can see this being used in a 5th or 6th grade classroom and making saltwater taffy! What fun! THANKS!!!

      1. So happy you did! Library opens in 21 minutes! After Cod: A Biography of a Fish that Changed the World) he wrote the PB: The Cod’s Tale, illustrated by a fav of mine S.D. Schindler.

  5. Oh, oh, oh! Did you pick this special for me? I LOVE Kurlansy and did not even know this existed! Man, Library is already closed for the day – cannot wait!!!! THAN YOU!!!

    1. Of course, I picked it for you, Julie. I remember you saying how much you loved Kurlansky, so I went to see what our library had. And guess, what? He wrote a picture book!

    1. Erik, this book is aimed at your age group. I’m sure you’d find it fascinating. Julie Rowan-Zoch mentioned that he has a cod picture book as well (based on his book about the history of cod).

    1. It’s quite an amazing tale. Apparently he also has a picture book about the history of cod, based on his book for grown ups. It’s on my “too read” list. Enjoy!

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