Salty Strong: The “Whole” Cajun Story by Chris Whitson.
I was excited to review this book knowing that it would be one my son would certainly enjoy! It is a beautifully illustrated story of a Cajun boy’s journey of resilience and friendship in South Louisiana. Whitson was inspired by his grandchildren to write a story that anyone could read and see themselves. This story is a heartwarming celebration of friendship, culture, and Louisiana cuisine!
Salty is a divine Cajun boy created from the salt of the earth — literally. Dwelling deep within the hidden caverns of South Louisiana’s ancient salt domes, Salty spent his days cooking and caring for the critters of the Cajun swamp. Salty’s life was one of mineral harmony.
But when a crew of burly salt miners arrive, Salty’s ordinary world suddenly changes forever. When the miners crush poor Salty’s body into a witty, gritty pile of granules, his strong Cajun spirit is bottled up in a tiny salt shaker bound for the dining tables of New Orleans’ lively French Quarter.
Finding himself in the kitchen of a cranky chef, Salty strikes up a friendship with a timid girl made of peppercorns encased in a glass pepper grinder, named Pep. Hailing from Southern India, Pep shares her native culture with Salty and he teaches her about life in Cajun country. Together, they help each other endure being crushed and bottled up during their quest to become whole again.
“Salty Strong: The ‘Whole’ Cajun Story” (May 2020, Archway Publishing) is a beautifully illustrated, uplifting children’s tale about the joys of learning about new cultures, having different experiences, and the unlimited power of friendship and giving.
When this book arrived my nose quickly noticed the extra goodies in the package: Hand Blended Spice mixes from Red Stick Spice Co. There were two mixes both equally exciting. Ain’t that somethin’ blend which was a Cajun blend of spices inspired by Salty’s adventures through the swamp. The other mix was Salty’s Spice Blend which was a spicy blend of salt, chili flakes and punchy black pepper that tempts your taste buds! The spice mixes had me wishing I opened the package before dinner time instead of at bedtime! Do you have a favorite Cajun dish?!
I read the story with my son who is eight years old. He enjoyed the story a lot, stayed focused the whole time (which says a lot because sometimes he can start some imaginary side stories which I love of course) and said he would certainly like to read it again!! If you end up getting this book I would love to know how you enjoyed it!
I wanted to leave you with an interview with the author which made me eager to read this book and support him. As I am about to celebrate three years of sobriety and as someone who knows the relationship to grandparents is special I really enjoyed reading his connection of his grandchildren making him a better person.
An interview with Chris Whitson
- What gave you the idea to bring salt to life?
Salt is natural and pure. It has played an important role in survival, culture, business, religion, and society since ancient times. The significance and history of the natural salt domes in Louisiana are not often mentioned in history books.
- How do you relate to Salty’s story?
The book came from a place of gratitude. About ten years ago, my first grandchild was born and my journey with sobriety had begun. As I began writing with no clear intention, unintentionally, the book began to mirror a blend of my childhood joys and stresses and my adult struggles and path to overcoming them. It encompasses all of the most important teachings that I challenged and had to learned through decades of life experiences.
- Can you talk a bit about the influence of New Orleans and Cajun culture on your own childhood?
I loved growing up in New Orleans. For me, New Orleans and Cajun cultures are a celebration of family, faith , and community. They are welcoming resilient people who work hard and like to share their joy, culture, and world famous cuisine with others. Once it’s in your blood, it never leaves you!
- How did you balance including Southern history in your story while still making it digestible for children?
I kept it simple. True Cajun dialect is much more intense than reflected in Salty Strong. I thought it would be fun and a learning opportunity for kids to read a taste of a unique dialect. I kept it to what many in Louisiana call, “the dis, dats, dese, and dose”. Aka, “this, that, these, and those”.
- What do you want kids to take away from this story?
At some point everyone has struggles and may feel “crushed” like Salty. It may be a struggle with bullying, illness, addiction, loneliness… Hang in there, have Faith, give of yourself, and open your heart to others. You will become whole and stronger than ever!
As always, thank you for being here!