Thanksgiving Books~With a Difference

Thanksgiving is one of our family’s favorite holidays.  We love the chance to get together, talk, catch up, and take part in a ritual of gratitude. Unfortunately, in most picture books (and in lots of history books), Thanksgiving is presented as an uncomplicated celebration where Pilgrims and Indians shared the bounty of the harvest.  But for neither the Wampanoags nor the early settlers was it so simple.  So this year we wanted to look for some books for kids and families that open up multiple views and bring to light more historical information to deepen our ideas about Thanksgiving.  To offer a range of points of view, we include two non-fiction historical picture books, two books with authentic Native American stories, and two books that show “a day in the life”  for both pilgrim and Wampanoag kids.  Happy Thanksgiving!


Non-Fiction Historical Picture Books

1621:  A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace

National Geographic created this realistically illustrated book to put aside the Thanksgiving myths and take a new look at our American history.  In cooperation with the living-history museum, Plimoth Plantation, the writers and photographers take us on a journey back through time to view that gathering in 1621 to celebrate the first harvest.  This true history includes the voices of all the participants, including the lost voices of the Wanapanoag Indians.  The authors believe they have significant new perspectives to share: “There was neither cranberry sauce nor pumpkin pie at the 1621 harvest celebration. There were no Indians with woven blankets over their shoulders and large feathered headdresses cascading down their backs. There were no Pilgrims in somber black clothes and tall hats with silver buckles, either. The English didn’t even call themselves Pilgrims at the time.” For more information online, check out the website for Plimoth Plantation.


Thanksgiving: The True Story by Penny Coleman

Penny Coleman examines the roots of the holiday, setting out to discover the “truth” behind the legends and the myths. She examines the birth of the holiday and its path to national recognition. In an engaging and fascinating presentation, Coleman looks at the history of football games (they started on Thanksgiving in late 1800s!), long lost traditions, and the different kinds of meals prepared each year.  It’s also a wonderful look at how exciting historical research can be, digging into primary documents and discovering surprising facts and stories.  Coleman also often mentions the National Day of Mourning begun in 1970 by Frank James to commemorate the Native lives lost since Thanksgiving Day, as well as the atrocities committed against the Wampanoag since that day in 1621.  This book is highly recommended for the whole family.


Native American Stories

The Children of Morning Light: Wampanoag Tales as Told by Manitonquot, illustrated by Fay Arquette.

A respected elder–and contemporary spiritual leader of the Wampanoag tribe–Manitonquat, retells these stories from his tribe and his tradition. Each story has a full-color, full-page illustration by Arquette, a Mohawk artist.  The tales tell of Creation, of a time when humans and animals spoke the same language,  and speak to the mysteries of Death, the reasons for the four seasons, migration, and other aspects of the human experience.  There is both humor and wisdom in these stories, and they make wonderful readalouds.  Not just for Thanksgiving time, this gem of a book is a wonderful addition to anyone’s collection.


Giving Thanks:  A Native-American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp

The Six-Nation (Iroquois) have a beautiful ceremonial tradition that is a salute to Mother Earth and all her beauty.  This message of gratitude is adapted for children by Chief Jake Swamp.  In simple and eloquent language, and with vivid striking images, the book shares a  good morning message that gives thanks to water, grass, fruits, animals, the wind, rain, moon, sun, and stars.  The gifts of the earth stand out in the rich landscapes that illustrate the book.  A perfect book for Thanksgiving celebrations–and for all year round to honor the wonders of the natural world.


A Day in the Life

Tapenum’s Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times by Kate Waters

Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts is a historical site that recreates the town and daily lives of the Pilgrims in 1627.  Also on the property is a historical recreation of a Wampanoag Settlement, which served as the location for the photographs in this book that illustrate “a day in the life” of a young boy living in that place and time.  Tapenum is a boy young enough to not yet be a warrior, yet old enough to be disappointed by this fact.  It shows how he passes his day, how members of his family interact, and how he lives.  The information kind of hits you over the head with more information than story, but the details and the images really bring a different time and culture to life, and it holds a special fascination for many kids, especially around this time of year.


Sarah Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl by Kate Waters

A companion piece to the Tapenum book, this one illustrates “a day in the life” of a young pilgrim girl.  Based on historical accounts of an actual girl, the illustrations for this book were photographed at Plimoth Plantation.  For kids who don’t live close enough visit the living museum themselves (and also for all American Girl fans), this is an excellent representation of how different life was (and how much life was “all work and very little play”) for children almost 400 years ago.  Girls are especially fascinated by the spread that shows Sarah getting dressed in her one set of every day clothes…


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