Finding Accurate Thanksgiving History Books for Kids
Looking for accurate Thanksgiving history books for children can be difficult. So many of them have been romanticized to the point of falsehood.
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Stories about the Pilgrims and the colonial times overall are often problematic anyway. Many of the books which do 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, Joseph Bruchac’s Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving is one of those rare early American history books. It’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. I love how he begins not with the First Thanksgiving or with planting corn, but with Squanto’s first difficult journey away 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, 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.
Three Young Pilgrims
Another book which handles this difficult time period fairly tastefully, but not perfectly, is Three Young Pilgrims by Cheryl Harness. This is a good choice 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, illustrated primer format, and the wealth of hand-lettered facts incorporated into the rich, brooding illustrations.
But there’s a caveat: the author admits in the foreword that Three Young Pilgrims only tells “part of the story”, and hopes it will “lead the reader to study further”. I agree. It’s beautiful and touching, but glosses over a few details and romanticizes a bit, so definitely read it alongside Bruchac’s book.
Help Your Kids Separate Thanksgiving Fact from Fiction
And talk to your kids! Like Cheryl Harness said, that any book we read only tells “part of the story”. As children take in the folklore surrounding the holiday this Thanksgiving, let’s begin conversations to help kids sort out legend from historical fact. I’ve created a series of discussion prompts to help you talk about real Thanksgiving history with your kids — click here to read 10 Thanksgiving History Conversation-Starters for Kids.
What resources are you using to delve into Thanksgiving history this year?