Can we talk briefly about Thanksgiving books? It’s not as easy as it sounds, if you really stop and think about it, to find good Thanksgiving books for kids.
Stories about the Pilgrims and the colonial times overall — not to mention Thanksgiving itself — are very often problematic. Many of the books which provide a truly accurate account, contain content unsuitable for sensitive children. Child-friendly volumes, on the other hand, often take liberties with history, since the true story of the colonies’ tragedies and trials isn’t a child-friendly topic. And of course (and this is a biggie) many books about Pilgrims depict Native Americans in a incredibly offensive way. (I’ve written more about the way Native Americans are depicted in children’s literature.)
Thankfully, “Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving” is one of those rare early American history books that’s accurate and compelling while still being child-friendly. In fact, it’s the only picture book about the first Thanksgiving I recommend. With empathy and strength, the author — who is of Native American ancestry himself! — tells Squanto’s story in the first person. What I love is that he begins not with the First Thanksgiving or with planting corn, but with Squanto’s first journey from North America to England. Squanto is portrayed as a man of courage, and Bruchac masterfully writes of Squanto’s difficult role in Patuxet-turned-Plymouth. With a book as solid and factual — and beautiful! — as this, there’s no reason to turn instead to watered-down inaccurate stories about this misunderstood man. Definitely add it to your library request queue or your bookstore wishlist if you haven’t already.
Another book which handles this difficult time period fairly tastefully, but not perfectly, is “Three Young Pilgrims” by Cheryl Harness. This is a good one to give children a broad overview over of the Pilgrim perspective during the early colonial years, since it shows various trials, hardships, and joys the Pilgrims experienced while adjusting to the New World during and after arrival. Kids will love the large format, and the wealth of hand-lettered facts incorporated into the rich, brooding illustrations. The author admits in the overview that this “illustrated primer” can only tell “part of the story”, and hopes it will “lead the reader to study further”. I agree. “Three Young Pilgrims” is beautiful and touching, but glosses over a few details, so definitely read it alongside Bruchac’s book.
And always, it’s good to remember, like Cheryl Harness said, that any book we read only tells “part of the story”. Let’s keep searching for more excellent books to expand our perspective!
As I find more resources to add to the early elementary literature-based American history resource/curriculum I’m compiling, I’m sharing a few of my favorite books on Instagram, using the #oaxacabornUShistory hashtag.
What books are you reading this Thanksgiving season?
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