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<< Back to Saltypie


Debbie Reese
This book is exceptional. When people ask me for a short list of recommended books, Saltypie is going to be on that list.
This book is exceptional. When people ask me for a short list of recommended books, Saltypie is going to be on that list.

Before you read Tim Tingle's Saltypie to your child or students in your classroom or library, spend some time studying what Tingle says at the end of the book, on the pages titled "How Much Can We Tell Them?"

There, you'll learn a little about Tim's childhood, and some about his father, grandmother, the Choctaw Nation, and, the rock-throwing incident in the book. Here's an excerpt:
I always knew we were Choctaws, but as a child I never understood that we were Indians. The movies and books about Indians showed Indians on horseback. My family drove cars and pickup trucks. Movie Indians lived in teepees. We lived in modern houses. Indians in books and on television hunted with bows and arrows. My father and my uncles hunted, too, with shotguns, but mostly they fished.
I have similar memories of my own. I watched the Indians on television and thought they weren't really Indians. I knew that we were Pueblo Indians, but we didn't look or live anything at all like the ones on TV, so I figured they weren't real. Tingle's note has a lot of very powerful information in it:
We know our history never included teepees or buffaloes. We were people of the woods and swamps of what is now called Mississippi. Early Choctaws had gardens and farms. For hundreds of years, they lived in wooden houses.
Long before explorers arrived from Europe, we had a government, a Choctaw national government. We selected local and national leaders. We recognized women as equal citizens.
Did you do a double take as you read his words? I bet your students will! Indian people---prior to Europeans arrival on the continent that came to be known as North America---had governments?! Women were equal citizens?!! Those are powerful and important words for you (the adult) to carry with you every single time you pick up a book that has American Indians in it. We weren't primitive. We weren't savage.

Tingle's note goes on to talk about things the Choctaw people experienced, such as the Trail of Tears, boarding school and racism. And, he talks about stereotypes in children's books, and he suggests that teachers can use Saltypie to dispel some of those stereotypes.

Turning now, to the book itself. In it are several stories.

The first double-paged spread of the book shows a young boy with bees around him. He's wearing a bright green button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. That boy is Tim, and the stories in the book are from his life.

First up is getting stung by a bee. His opening sentences capture the reader right away:
A bee sting on the bottom! Who could ever forget a bee sting on the bottom?
No doubt, those lines will elicit both laughs and groans from children--especially those who know the throbbing pain of a bee sting! Obviously in distress, Tim runs to an arbor where his grandmother, who he calls Mawmaw, comforts him, but teaches him, too, when she asks "Didn't you hear the bees?" and says the bee sting was "some kind of saltypie."

From there, Tingle takes his readers back to his grandmother's early years as a mother, and tells us about the word "saltypie."

The year was 1915, and Tim's grandparents (and Tim's dad, who was then two years old), moved to Texas. On that first morning his grandmother stepped outside her new home, and was struck in the face by a stone, thrown, Tingle writes, by a boy. Covering her face with her hands, blood seeped between her fingers. Not knowing it was blood, Tim's father (then a toddler), thought it was cherry pie filling. He reached up, got some on his fingertip, and tasted it. Course, it wasn't the sweet taste he expected, and he uttered "Saltypie!" and spit it out. His mother hugged him. Though she was crying and shaken by the incident, she saw humor in her son's unmet expectation of something sweet, and laughed as she held him.

Moving forward in time to 1954, Tim is six years old, and he and his dad are visiting Mawmaw and Pawpaw, who still live in that house they moved to in 1915. Tim asks if he, like the adults gathered around the table, can have a cup of coffee. He watches as Mawmaw pours coffee, and sees that she puts her thumb into each cup before she fills it. He doesn't want her thumb in his cup, and covers it with his hand. Pawpaw and Tim's aunt are surprised by his action, and his aunt takes him outside for a moment, where he learns that Mawmaw is blind.

In a family gathering that night, Tim learns a lot about his grandmother's life. From his uncle, he learns about the stone that was thrown at her, and that people back then didn't like Indians. When he asks his uncle "What is saltypie?" his uncle says
"It's a way of dealing with trouble, son. Sometimes you don't know where the trouble comes from. You just kinda shrug it off, say saltypie. It helps you carry on."
The next story Tingle relates is set in 1970, when his grandmother is hospitalized for an eye transplant through which they hope she will regain her sight. His extended family is gathered round, waiting, telling stories to pass the time. By then, Tingle is a college student.

One of the stories Tim told is about his grandmother's years at Tuskahoma Academy, a boarding school for American Indian girls. The color palette on the page for that story is, appropriately, a somber blue. There, Mawmaw as a young child, stands, looking wistful, stuck at the school at Christmas time. That illustration is exceedingly powerful. Actually, it is only one of many illustrations in the book that are astounding in what they convey.

The illustrator for the book is Karen Clarkson. Like Tingle, she is enrolled with the Choctaw Nation. As I noted earlier, the very first page shows us young Tim, in agony, having been stung by a bee. Page after page, Clarkson's illustrations portray a modern Native family. From bright sunny pages bursting with life to the quiet ones that slow us (readers) down to absorb the stories told on that page, Clarkson's illustrations are terrific.

I particularly like the one of the family, waiting for news about the operation. The waiting room is crowded with members of their family who catch up on news and tell stories. I've spent many hours with my own family---siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles---as we waited for the outcome of a family members surgery. That large gathering often takes hospital staff by surprise when they first start working amongst Native people.

From Tingle's note at the end of the book, to the stories he tells, and Clarkson's illustrations, this book is exceptional. As I said in my earlier post today, order your copy from Cinco Puntos Press. Here, I'll say ORDER SEVERAL COPIES! And, learn more about Tim Tingle and Karen Clarkson. While you're at it, order Tingle's other books, too. Crossing Bok Chitto and When Turtle Grew Feathers are gems.

And yes, if you're wondering, Mawmaw does regain her sight:
It was so right that my father, who had given us this word [saltypie] fifty years ago in a moment of childhood misunderstanding, would now take it away in a moment of enlightenment. He lifted his eyes and spoke.
"No more saltypie," he said. "Mawmaw can see."

The closing paragraph in this very fine book is the one I'll end this post with, too:
We all leave footfalls, everywhere we go. We change the people we meet. If we learn to listen to the quiet and secret music, as my Mawmaw did, we will leave happy footfalls behind us in our going.
We can, if we choose, leave happy footfalls, and books like this one can help us do that.
- Debbie Reese, American Indians in Children's Literature blog,  Visit Website
Looking back to his childhood, Choctaw storyteller Tingle introduces his capable, comforting Mawmaw (grandmother); recalls his shock as a six-year-old at realizing that she was blind (possibly, he learns, as a result of a racially motivated assault in her own youth); and recounts a hospital vigil years afterward when she received an eye transplant. His strong, measured prose finds able counterpart in Clarkson’s subtly modeled, full-bleed close-ups of eloquently expressive faces and closely gathered members of the author’s large extended family.

The title comes from a word invented by Tingle’s father as a stand-in for any sort of pain or distress, and its use serves to enhance the vivid sense of intimacy that pervades this reminiscence. A lengthy afterword provides more details about Tingle’s family and Choctaw culture, and offers much to think about regarding American Indian stereotypes.
- May 1, 2010 
Publishers Weekly
[A] quietly poetic story about dealing with adversity.
Moving back and forward in time, Tingle (Walking the Choctaw Road) offers a tribute to his grandmother, Mawmaw, in a quietly poetic story about dealing with adversity. As a young woman, Mawmaw moves from Oklahoma’s Choctaw Nation to Texas, where a rock thrown by a boy cuts her face, possibly causing her eventual blindness. The term “saltypie,” which the family uses to shrug off difficult situations, is coined after the incident by Tingle’s father (then a boy), who is reminded of cherry pie filling by the blood streaming down his mother’s face. Years later, when a young Tingle asks why the boy threw the rock, his uncle replies, “Your grandmother was Indian. That was enough back then.” The story shifts forward again as the family gathers at the hospital while Mawmaw undergoes a successful eye transplant. Using a nice variety of perspectives, newcomer Clarkson conveys Mawmaw’s fortitude and the family’s intergenerational bonds in gauzy paintings…most are distinguished by strong, recognizable emotions. Ages 7–10.
- April 26, 2010 
Kirkus Reviews
Clarkson’s evocative illustrations bathe each scene in a soft light that accentuates the warmth of the family’s love.
A grandmother’s life story centers this welcome depiction of a contemporary Choctaw family. A young boy’s bee sting is soothed when the grandmother calls his hurt “saltypie.” A flashback reveals the origin of the expression: A stone malevolently thrown at a young mother injures her, and her son, thinking the blood is like pie filling, tastes it and pronounces it “saltypie.” When the bee-stung boy discovers his grandmother’s blindness, possibly resulting from the blow, an uncle explains, “You just kind of shrug it off, say saltypie. It helps you carry on.” Years later, the extended family gathers in a Houston hospital, sharing its collective past while the grandmother undergoes eye surgery: “No more saltypie …Mawmaw can see.” The grown boy realizes that his grandmother, “Blind as she was…taught so many how to see.” Tingle provides a corrective view of contemporary Native American life, as his author’s note reveals was his intent. Clarkson’s evocative illustrations bathe each scene in a soft light that accentuates the warmth of the family’s love. (author’s note) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)
- April 15, 2010 
Randomly Reading
[Saltypie] is complimented by Karen Clarkson's softly painted illustrations that really capture all the emotions of the family on each page, but especially the last image of Mawmaw, whose eyes are open for the first time since that fateful morning in 1915.
Saltypie is Tim Tingle's homage to his strong, loving grandmother and how she faced the difficulties and problems she encountered, and passed that on to her family. A member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, in 1915, his Mawmaw moved to Texas with her husband and 2 year old son. One morning Mawmaw was standing on the porch of their house, when she was hit in the head with a rock by a boy she never saw coming, simply because she was Indian. Bleeding, her 2 year old son, thought the blood looked like the sweet filling of his mother's cherry pie, but tasted like “saltypie” instead. Saltypie became the word that helped the family deal with trouble, “Sometimes you don't know where the trouble comes from. You just kinda shrug it off, say saltypie. It helps you carry on.” I thought the subtitle of this story has a nice double meaning. It is Tim's journey from darkness to light about his grandmother's life, and his grandmother's journey from darkness to light after she has surgery to give her her sight back — lost years ago to a disease.

I had read Saltypie in Tingle's collection of stories about the Choctaw people (a book I highly recommend and in fact, I think I will revisit it this week), but I don't think any of the original feeling was lost in turning it into a picture book. It is complimented by Karen Clarkson's softly painted illustrations that really capture all the emotions of the family on each page, but especially the last image of Mawmaw, whose eyes are open for the first time since that fateful morning in 1915.
- November 30, 2016  Visit Website
School Library Journal
The large, full-spread illustrations are vibrant…A lovely piece of family history.
K-Gr 5— Tingle tells his family's story from their origins in Oklahoma Choctaw country to their life in Texas. The account spans generations and weaves in ghosts from the past to the present day. When his grandmother and grandfather, then a young couple, arrived in Pasadena, someone threw a stone at Mawmaw, and it wasn't until the author was six that he learned that his grandmother was blind. Tingle was a junior in college when he got word that Mawmaw was having surgery. As the family gathered at the hospital, they told stories about their past, and he heard about her days as an orphan at an Indian boarding school and the discrimination she encountered living in Texas. Then they got the word they'd been waiting for: the surgery was a success, and Mawmaw could see. The large, full-spread illustrations are vibrant and vital in moving the story along. A lovely piece of family history.—Sharon Morrison, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Durant, OK
- May 1, 2010 
Tucson Citizen
An American story that underscores the joys of overcoming hardships.
The author subtly touches on [racism and stereotyping] by gently challenging American ideas of "Indians" with pictures of regular people having regular lives. And the "How Much Can We Tell Them?" section in the back of the book, directed at adults, invites us to see our cultural biases and to teach our children to see and understand the truth of the people around us.
- May 20, 2011 
Review of Texas Books
An unexpected and thought provoking multi-generational story.
An unexpected and thought provoking multi-generational story written in a picture story book format that will appeal to and be more appropriate for older readers, not the traditional young children that many associate as the picture book audience, The story, written by award winning Choctaw writer and story teller Tim Tingle, gives insight into someone cultural background of a Choctaw family as this very touching and personal story unfolds and as the reader learns where Saltypie comes from.

Karen Clarkson’s illustrations beautifully portray the emotions of the different family members both past and present and are a perfect compliment to the text. Ms Clarkson is also a Choctaw tribal member.
- Andrea Karlin, 
El Paso Scene
Tingle, once again, produces a tale well-told, well-remembered and destined to be well received by readers of all ages.
This childhood memoir by Choctaw author Tim Tingle, celebrates the strength and life of his “Mawmaw,” (grandmother) and her use of the phrase “Saltypie” to deal with troubles small and tragic. The book deals with the common memories of country life, the sad reality of racism against Native Americans in the mid 20th Century, and the importance of family, all told without preaching or accusing. However, the book grasped me (and my own 8-year-old daughter) with a surprising sad discovery from young Tingle concerning his grandmother, and the just-as-surprising happy conclusion.
The story is accompanied by beautiful painted illustrations by artist Karen Clarkson in her children’s book debut.
Tingle, once again, produces a tale well-told, well-remembered and destined to be well received by readers of all ages.
- Lisa Kay Tate, 

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