Autumn and Thanksgiving Books for Children
We are a family that reads together — a lot. Every night we spend 45 minutes reading aloud, and honestly, it is my favorite part of our day. Sometimes we read chapter books. We started reading chapter books when Bambino was about four years old, but when we aren’t in the middle of a chapter book, we switch back and read picture books for a few weeks or months. I keep seasonally-appropriate books together in a basket — two actually — where they are easy to find and easy to grab.
These are some of the books currently in our Autumn and Thanksgiving basket. We love them all!
A word about age-appropriateness…
I started reading to Bambino the day he came home from the hospital. His favorite books even as an infant had lots of words and beautiful pictures. We started chapter books when he turned four. So, while I list these by ages, there is no magic to the age ranges. Bambino still loves books that are technically “for preschoolers” — and we often read books that are intended for children beyond his age, too. Does your child follow a more complicated story most of the time? Then stretch her with a story written for older children! But make sure you are also giving her stories that she fully understands and appreciates. And there’s nothing wrong with reaching back for sentimental favorites, too. If a child doesn’t seem to follow or be interested in a book, chances are it is a bit too hard. Tuck it away and come back to it another time.
And a word about the depictions of Native Americans…
Thanksgiving literature, particularly for children, can be problematic. When simplifying the Thanksgiving story, Native Americans are often reduced to caricatures. And the Thanksgiving story is almost always told from the Pilgrim perspective which, when done over and over again, reinforces the idea that the white, Christian perspective is the only one that matters. In fact many native peoples don’t celebrate the “traditional American” Thanksgiving.
While I want my family to celebrate the idea of Thanksgiving — a gathering of neighbors and friends who have helped each other through hard times and who celebrate together — we also often have hard conversations about Native Americans. That can be difficult in an age-appropriate way, but it is important. And literature opens the doors to those conversations so that our children grow up to be advocates for all of their neighbors and someday truly understand the complexity of the history of the United States. For many Native Americans, Thanksgiving Day is a day of mourning — a fact which our family works to acknowledge.
Some of the books listed below do a better job of representing the diversity of the United States than others. I think of our family library as a whole — while no one book will address the complexities of American life, we strive for representation of all people and perspectives when considering our rich library as a collection.
For more perspectives, reading lists, and conversation about the Native American perspective on Thanksgiving, I have collected a list of resources — most intended for teachers, but they are fantastic for parents and advocates as well. I suggest starting with this article from No-Profit Quarterly as a starting point.
Click on the images in the gallery to the right. Each one will open a different resource link.
I also want to recommend the website Many Hoops which is devoted entirely to Thanksgiving and to creating a balanced and representative narrative for families and teachers. Many Hoops has coloring pages which accurately represent both Native Americans and the Pilgrims. They have prayers to include at your table, resource guides for parents and teachers, crafts, games, and guides. They also have a great Facebook page where they share even more resources and conversation.
All three of these books are available as board books, and in our house they were worn out! Bambino particularly loved Nancy Davis’ The First Thanksgiving book with it’s flaps to lift and discover. All three introduce seasonal vocabulary with simple sentences and colorful illustrations. We love Tomie dePaola’s books, particularly, for their gorgeous illustrations.
In Thanksgiving Day a school class presents a play enacting a simplified version of the Thanksgiving story. Anne Rockwell worked with Plimoth Plantation to present a simple but accurate version of the story. The resulting frame-tale is a beautiful telling blending history and contemporary family life. Illustrators Lizzy Rockwell (Thanksgiving Day) and Soja Lamur (Thanksgiving is for Giving Thanks) both present a diversity of ages and ethnicities in their respective books. And both books handle the idea of giving thanks without necessarily being faith-based. Some find Thanksgiving Day to be controversial, however, because the children in the book dress up as Pilgrims and Native People in the context of the play they are presenting.
And while not truly a Thanksgiving story, 10 Fat Turkeys is a fun and funny romp that I don’t recommend before bedtime! This counting book with its infectious rhyme will stick in your child’s head — and yours as well. Be ready to read it over and over and over again.
The Very First Americans is a wonderful introduction to Native American history and tradition with rich illustrations and graceful text. We have poured over the illustrations and had wonderful conversations about the differences amongst Native Americans — as wide ranging and as different as we all are today.
If you don’t already know Margaret McNamara’s Mr. Tiffin’s Classroom series, I’m so glad to introduce you! These books — The Apple Orchard Riddle and How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin — are delightful reads featuring a classroom of diverse faces and interesting children. Both introduce higher-level thinking concepts while celebrating all the different ways that children learn. And Strega Nona’s Harvest, one of many Strega Nona books by Tomie dePaola, brims with generosity and joy as Strega Nona’s garden produces an abundant crop, and she shares with her neighbors. The Strega Nona series is another of our family favorites!
Phyllis Alsdurf’s gorgeous book, Thanksgiving in the Woods, is inspired by a true annual, intergenerational gathering of family and friends who come together for what must be an incredible communal Thanksgiving celebration. And the book introduces one of my favorite songs, “Simple Gifts.” Cranberry Thanksgiving is a somewhat silly story with an important message: you can’t judge a person by their appearances. And the recipe for Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread on the back cover is absolutely delicious! Sharing the Bread is “an Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story” indeed. It depicts a family preparing their Thanksgiving meal sometime around the turn of the last century. The illustrations are lovely, and the rhymed text is a joy to read. The book itself is a reminder that when we join together to celebrate Thanksgiving we are joining a tradition that stretches back generation upon generation.
Squanto’s Journey and 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving are both new in our collection. Both books look at the Pilgrim and Thanksgiving stories from the Wampanoag point of view. Squanto’s Journey is fictionalized, but is based on the events in Squanto’s life — a young Native American who was kidnapped and sold in to slavery, learned English, and made his way back to North America where he saved the Pilgrims’ lives by sharing basic skills for survival. 1621 takes a more historical look at Thanksgiving complete with photographs from Plimoth Plantation in Massachussets. And while Native American History for Kids isn’t Thanksgiving-specific, it is a great introduction to the lifestyles of Native Americans across North America. After all, Native Americans are not one people nor have they vanished.
The Boy Who Fell off the Mayflower features P.J.Lynch’s glorious illustrations, but the Irish artist also wrote the text. It is a beautiful, historical retelling of the Thanksgiving story introducing an indentured servant, John Howland, as the book’s teenaged protagonist. The book is both harrowing and faithful with attention to historical detail in both the illustrations and the story-telling.
Giving Thanks is a collection of poems, prayers, and songs from a variety of sources. It is a book to be dipped into bit by bit. But it is the illustrations by Pamela Dalton which are truly remarkable. Dalton is an artist in the German technique of Scherenschmitte (“scissor cuts”) and the illustrations are all cut from paper. Think of the most elaborate snowflake you could make — and then see what Dalton does for every page. I also highly recommend her book Brother Sun, Sister Moon — not a Thanksgiving book, but it is an extraordinary work of art!
The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh was first published in 1954 and it shows its age as a very Euro-centric telling of The Thanksgiving Story. I only include it here because it is still often used in some schools and libraries, so your child may encounter it. However, this is one of those books which can open doors for conversations about trust and perspective in storytelling. When Dalgliesh writes, “It was fine to have a friendly Indian there in the daytime. But when night came the settlers wished he would go away,” this is an opportunity for parents to ask questions and talk about the fear and prejudice presented in the story — which is what we do as we read. Despite its skewed perspective, Dalgliesh does introduce the Pilgrim families by name and presents the Pilgrim’s version of historical events in clear and interesting detail. With older children, this story could be read in contrast with Squanto’s Journey — be prepared to talk about the differences in storytelling approaches and perspectives.
I hope you find some new favorite kids’ Thanksgiving books from these selections! Reading together is such an important part of raising children! Give them good books, and they will always want to read!