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Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light

Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light

by Tim Tingle, Karen Clarkson (Illustrator)

Bee stings on the backside! That was just the beginning. Tim was about to enter a world of the past, with bullying boys, stones and Indian spirits of long ago. But they were real spirits, real stones, very real memories…

In this powerful family saga, author Tim Tingle tells the story of his family’s move from Oklahoma Choctaw country to Pasadena


Bee stings on the backside! That was just the beginning. Tim was about to enter a world of the past, with bullying boys, stones and Indian spirits of long ago. But they were real spirits, real stones, very real memories…

In this powerful family saga, author Tim Tingle tells the story of his family’s move from Oklahoma Choctaw country to Pasadena, TX. Spanning 50 years, Saltypie describes the problems encountered by his Choctaw grandmother—from her orphan days at an Indian boarding school to hardships encountered in her new home on the Gulf Coast.

Tingle says, “Stories of modern Indian families rarely grace the printed page. Long before I began writing, I knew this story must be told.” Seen through the innocent eyes of a young boy, Saltypie — a 2011 Skipping Stones honor book, WordCraft Circle 2012 Children's Literature Award-winner, and winner of the 2011 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People in the category of Grades 4-6 — is the story of one family’s efforts to honor the past while struggling to gain a foothold in modern America.

Tim Tingle, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, is a sought-after storyteller for folklore festivals, library conferences, and schools across America. At the request of Choctaw Chief Pyle, Tim tells a story to the tribe every year before Pyle’s State of the Nation Address at the Choctaw Labor Day Gathering. Tim’s previous and often reprinted books from Cinco Puntos Press—Walking the Choctaw Road and Crossing Bok Chitto—received numerous awards, but what makes Tim the proudest is the recognition he receives from the American Indian communities.

Karen Clarkson, a Choctaw tribal member, is a self-taught artist who specializes in portraits of Native Americans. She did not start painting until after her children had left home; she has since been widely acclaimed as a Native American painter. She lives in San Leandro, California.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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; a few images—as when Tingle gets stung by a bee in the book’s abrupt opening—don’t quite hit the mark, but most are distinguished by strong, recognizable emotions. Ages 7-10. (May)
From the Publisher
"This book is exceptional. When people ask me for a short list of recommended books, Saltypie is going to be on that list." —Debbie Reese, American Indians in Children's Literature blog

"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…A lengthy afterword provides more details about Tingle’s family and Choctaw culture, and offers much to think about regarding American Indian stereotypes." —Booklist

"[A] quietly poetic story about dealing with adversity." —Publishers Weekly

"Clarkson’s evocative illustrations bathe each scene in a soft light that accentuates the warmth of the family’s love." —Kirkus Reviews

"The large, full-spread illustrations are vibrant…A lovely piece of family history." —School Library Journal

"An American story that underscores the joys of overcoming hardships." —Tucson Citizen

"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." —Unshelved

"An unexpected and thought provoking multi-generational story." —Review of Texas Books

"Tingle, once again, produces a tale well-told, well-remembered and destined to be well received by readers of all ages." —El Paso Scene

“[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.” —Randomly Reading

Children's Literature - Vicki Foote
This biography tells the story of a Choctaw Native American family during the last fifty years. The author begins with his recollections of his grandmother as she explains, after a bee has stung him, that it is "some kind of saltypie." He recalls how his grandmother and her family moved from Oklahoma to Texas in 1915. After they moved into their house, his grandmother opened the door and a boy threw a stone at her. The author's father, who was two years old at the time, saw the blood and called it "saltypie." Later when the author is six years old, he discovers that his grandmother is blind. He learns that the term "saltypie is a way of dealing with trouble. You shrug it off. It helps you carry on." In 1970, when he is in college, his grandmother has an eye transplant. The family all tell their special Choctaw stories in the waiting room until the doctor comes to tell them that their grandmother can now see. The next morning all thirty-two grandchildren and cousins line up for their grandmother to see them. Several pages following the story give a detailed historical account of the Choctow Nation, and the author expresses his philosophy concerning Native American people today. Realistic illustrations with warm and beautiful colors provide dramatic emphasis for the story. This heartfelt and thought-provoking story is a wonderful literary contribution to the legacy of Native American culture. . Reviewer: Vicki Foote
School Library Journal
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
Kirkus Reviews
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." The term "eye transplant," the cause of the blindness and the sequencing of events could be clearer. Nevertheless, 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)

Product Details

Cinco Puntos Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.70(w) x 11.20(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
7 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Choctaw storyteller Tim Tingle makes his living telling stories and teaching folklore at schools, universities and festivals nationally. The Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers selected Tim as "Contemporary Storyteller of the Year" for 2001. Tim Tingle lives in Canyon Lake, Texas, near San Antonio. Choctaw artist Karen Clarkson lives in San Leandro, California with her husband Bill and their two dogs. A trip to Paris when she was ten inspired her to study the old masters but she feels she came into her own as an artist when she started creating portraits of Native Americans.

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