Sample Book Ideas for Literature-Based Reading Enthusiasts

From the 1995 edition of:
The Handbook for the Young Reader's Choice Award
sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Library Association.

for more information contact
Gale Sherman:
Bette Ammon:

A 1995 Young Reader's Choice Award Nominee (Grade 9-12):
Taste of Salt: a Story of Modern Haiti
by Frances Temple

PUBLICATION DETAILS: Cloth: 179 pages. 1992. $14.95 (ISBN 0-531-05459-4); public library edition $14.99 (ISBN 0-531-08609-7). Orchard. Paper: 1994. $3.99. HarperTrophy.
GENRES: Contemporary realistic fiction, multicultural
THEMES: Haiti, love, Aristide, Jean-Bertrand, military dictatorships, injustice, social change, political upheaval, friendship, repression, freedom, democracy, education, loneliness, pride, death, poverty, orphans, fear, family, violence, kidnapping, indentured labor, sugar harvest, revenge, oral histories, escape, Dominican Republic, Creole, elections
READABILITY: Sixth grade
INTEREST LEVEL: Seventh through twelfth grade


"A gripping first novel is simply told in the voices of two Haitian teen-agers who find political commitment and love...The main characters are idealized, but their grim circumstances are not. We feel their struggle to reach beyond themselves. The combination of dramatic action, romantic interest, and vivid storytelling will grab even the most apolitical teens. The ending, when Djo remembers the firebombing of the boys' shelter, is like a cry. The title is from a Haitian story: everyone needs a taste of salt; otherwise, you can become a zombie, with neither insight nor will." Booklist 88(22):2005 August 1992. Hazel Rochman. (Boxed review)

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. 46(3):65-66 November 1992. Betsy Hearne. (Column: "The Big Picture")

The Horn Book Magazine 68(6):730-31 November/December 1992. Nancy Vasilakis. (Starred review)

"Both of their [Djo and Jeremie's] accounts are full of the grim realities of life in modern Haiti, complete with the sense of hopefulness and helplessness that must fill a country in which politics are a deadly game. Dialect is used throughout, but it is readable, lyrical, and adds authenticity to the narrative. Factual material is integrated extremely well; no background knowledge is needed to become caught up in the drama of the many in this embattled land as related through the eyes of two compelling characters. An excellent first effort." School Library Journal 38(9):280 September 1992. Kathryn Havris. (Starred review)

"This is a compelling novel of Haiti during the early months of the presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide...Taste of Salt is a story of despair and at the same time one of hope, of love and of courage...This is a special book for the special reader. Those who read it will not soon forget it." Voice of Youth Advocates 15(5):286 December 1992. Civia M. Tuteur. (#4 quality, #3 popularity).



Virginia, France, and Vietnam were growing up places for Frances Temple, who now lives in Upstate New York with three children and husband. A primary school teacher, Temple read about the firebombing of the boys' shelter in Haiti and listened to some of Jean-Bertrand Aristide's speeches. She says "I wondered what it would be like to be one of them." Taste of Salt is Temple's first book.


Jeremie records the oral history of seventeen-year-old Djo, who was beaten and burned by Haitian President Duvalier's thugs. The political and social injustices suffered by many Haitians is revealed through these conversations as Djo struggles to overcome critical injuries to body and spirit. As Jeremie listens and records Djo's story, she begins to fall in love and feels compelled to share her own experiences. Real events of Haiti's recent political upheaval are unveiled through both their stories.


This first novel has short sentences and significant, but not overwhelming, dialect with Spanish and Creole words and phrases (defined in Glossary). The book title, Taste of Salt, is taken from a Haitian folktale. To introduce the book read aloud Temple's description of that tale: "If the zombie can get a taste of salt, he will understand. He will open his true eyes and see that he has been made a zombie. And he will turn against his master. He will obey him no longer. He will make himself free." (page 26-7, hardback edition).


Titide is a priest spearheading a drive to change Haiti's inequitable social and political system. Many people in Haiti work with him, including seventeen-year-old Djo, who was beaten and burned by thugs working for the president of Haiti. Djo says this:
Titid says I can no longer be his bodyguard, since my own body is so broken. Until it is fit again, I can no longer be useful in that way. But Titid says that it is not only the body, with its feet and hands and strong back that can be useful. He says the mind and spirit are useful, too. That mine are still strong, despite the blows. Titid says that for this work of storytelling, I am fit. I don't know if he sees true. (page 6, hardback edition)
Titid does see true. Djo's story is the story of Haiti's fight for freedom and democracy. When you read Taste of Salt, you will be ensnared in the drama of a people's struggle.


Titid, a priest who leads a drive toward freedom and justice in Haiti, has a dream of what would be a decent poor man's life. Teenagers Jeremie and Djo, working with Titid, describe the dream.
"A dry house, with a real roof.
"Clean water to drink.
"A big plate of rice and beans every day.
"Free from curable sickness.
"And working a job--"
"Or working the fields close to home, so families can live together."
"We been listening to the same speeches, Djo."
"Everybody in Haiti been listening to those speeches."
"Is a beautiful dream, Djo, if it can happen. Everybody working for it now." (page 32, hardback edition)
For the dream to come true, everybody--teens, adults, and children--will have to sacrifice a lot and fight for freedom. That's the story in Taste of Salt.


Current Events/Haiti/United States:

Following a landslide democratic election victory in on December 16, 1990, Titid (Jean-Bertrand Aristide) became President of Haiti when he was inaugurated February 7, 1991. Haitians enjoyed a short-lived democracy until a military coup was successful on September 30, 1991. Since then thousands of mostly poor Haitians have fled this Caribbean island. In 1993, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued 2,324 Haitians at sea, who were escaping along the Bahama-to-Florida route. Political activists working from Little Haiti in Miami, Florida; Clinica Estetico in New York City; and other locations are protesting the current U.S. policy on Haitian refugees and working for the restoration of the elected government of President Aristide.

This information, plus what students learn from Taste of Salt, can form the basis for further research into the continuing struggle and plight of the Haitians since 1991. Consult Return to the Darkest Days: Human Rights in Haiti Since the Coup by Anne Fuller (Americas Watch, 1991) and/or use other sources (Facts on File, Reader's Guide to Periodic Literature, and the New York Times Index) to research current articles on the Haitian situation.

Aristide: an Autobiography by Jean-Bertrand Aristide (Orbis, 1993) will give students even more information.


Taste of Salt is set in the 1980s, prior to the election of President Aristide. A study of modern Haitian history would enhance the understanding of the events in this book as well as current event issues involving Haiti.

Helpful books include Haiti by Trudy Hanmer (Watts, 1988), Haiti: Family Business by Rod Prince (Research and Action, 1985), The Caribbean: the Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism by Franklin W. Knight (Oxford University Press, 1990), The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier by Amy Wilentz (Simon, 1989), and Haiti: the Duvaliers and Their Legacy by Elizabeth Abbot (Robert Hale, 1991).

Film director Jonathan Demme has made three documentaries about Haiti beginning with Haiti Dreams of Democracy (1987). He is currently at work on another film dealing with life after the coup.

History/Oral/Language Arts:

Djo's telling of his life's events to Jeremie (who is recording what he says) is in fact an oral history. Students can do an oral history project with friends or relatives concerning personal histories, regional or city histories, and so on. Some organizations, including libraries and genealogical societies, have ongoing oral history projects and are often looking for volunteers who would be willing to participate.

Helpful books include How To Tape Instant Oral Biographies by Bill Zimmerman (Bantam, 1992) and The Tape-Recorded Interview: a Manual for Field Workers in Folklore and Oral History by Edward D. Ives (University of Tennessee Press, 1980).


Djo's job at the boys' shelter is to teach them to read; in fact, learning to read and making an education available to all was a critical part of Aristide's government. Djo's used a literacy program reading series called Taste Salt which was considered too radical by some church officials. See the Glossary definition for Misyon Alfa, which describes this program.

Like the escaped slave in Gary Paulsen's book Nightjohn, Titide knows the power of learning to read means freedom. Teaching literacy is an ongoing program. Most communities have programs for adult new readers who are working on learning to read or simply improving their reading skills. Invite your local Literacy Volunteer director to speak about this program to your students. Or write to Literacy Volunteers of America, 5795 Widewaters Parkway; Syracuse, NY 13214 (315) 445-800 and/or National Community Education Association, 119 North Payne Street; Alexandria, VA 22314 (703) 683-6232.


Djo is a talented drummer and is frequently asked to drum. Haitian music is unique, with its defined rhythm and beat, and many students may not have had an opportunity to experience it. Bring examples of this type of music to your classroom to play before, during, and after booktalks or to use in a study of ethnic music. Examples include Drums of Haiti and Folk Music of Haiti, both recorded in Haiti by Harold Courlander (Folkways)


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Copyright © 1994 by Gale Sherman & Bette Ammon. All right reserved.
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