Gobble Up These 8 Books For Thanksgiving
And a book on all your questions about Native Americans
From Halloween to Diwali to a few birthdays to Thanksgiving—that’s a LOT to do in one month. (Not to mention all the new book and movie debuts!) But no matter how tired I’ll be, I will rally for Thanksgiving. I love this holiday for how wholeheartedly American it is. A table heaving with food, friends and family to celebrate, sports, a parade, Black Friday shopping, and Christmas decorating the next day? Count me IN—even if it means I’ll be on a steady diet of coffee, Red Bull, and tiramisu (I’m going to need all the caffeine) for the next few weeks.
I’ll be hosting Friendsgiving this year. Did I mention it’s scheduled for two days after my return from vacation (oh yeah, there’s a vacation thrown in there too!). Crazy? Absolute insanity on my part. Doable? Hahaha. But we’re going to try anyway! It’s not the first time I’ve dozed off from jet lag in the middle of a party and it certainly won’t be the last.
You’d think the plethora of festivities would mean my interest in Thanksgiving would diminish by the time it rolls around (my interest will probably be just fine; it’s my stamina I’m worried about) but it’s hard not to get excited about what Thanksgiving stands for: warm, fuzzy feelings of happiness and gratitude to share good food with the ones you love.
So it should come as no surprise that I’m categorizing my book recommendations based on these sentiments: babies and toddlers (like always), gratitude, togetherness via food, and Thanksgiving-oriented books.
In each category, I’ve also included at least one children’s book written by a Native American author. I love all the good things Thanksgiving represents but I can’t forget that it has a heartbreaking history. Here are a few resources to learn more about the implications and what this holiday represents to the Native peoples of the US and Canada:
Everything You Wanted To Know About Indians But Were Afraid To Ask* by Anton Treuer
Written in a question-and-answer format, the questions range from understanding what Native peoples prefer to be called, to their history, all the way to learning what they hope the future holds
The author is an Ojibwe university professor so there’s a teaching element to this book I appreciate. There are no wrong questions and his answers are honest and empathetic
I appreciate that he clearly states he doesn’t speak for every Nation but gives summaries of the general points of view and why some Nations differ in opinion
A wonderful children’s book, Saltypie* by Tim Tingle, has a beautiful author’s note at the end that reminded me of how imperative it is that we bring these stories to light:
“When Indian storytellers and writers get together, we often ask, ‘How much can we tell them?’… How much can we tell them before they cover there ears and refuse to listen to our stories? Many non-Indian people have difficulty believing that biogtry could still be alive, or could ever have been alive, in the settling of our nation, in our dealings with Indians.”
An article that showcases the varying opinions Natives have about Thanksgiving
These are harsh truths to confront on a holiday that most of us think of with joy. But, as Dr. Becky says, “two things can be true”: You can enjoy Thanksgiving and celebrate with gratitude and reflect on the history of this holiday and the impact it has had on Native nations. I hope the books I’ve listed below give you the opportunity to do both!
For the babies and toddlers…
My Heart Fills With Happiness
Written by Monique Gray Smith and Illustrated by Julie Flett
Recommended Ages: 0-3 years old
I am completely enthralled by Julie Flett’s artwork (my favorite of her books is Birdsong*) so I had to give this book a read. This sweet board book is all about finding happiness and wonder in everyday things. We see young kids (who also happen to be Indigenous) spending time with their families, enjoying the outdoors, appreciating music, etc. The final page turns the question back to the reader: “What do you find happiness in?” It’s not explicitly a Thanksgiving book but it’s grounded in that same spirit of gratitude and appreciation. It also features scenes reminiscent of what you see during Thanksgiving like baking and spending time with family. Both the author and illustrator are Native: Gray Smith is of Cree and Lakota descent and Flett is Cree-Métis. I love the nods to their culture throughout the story and truly cannot overstate how absolutely stunning Flett’s digital collage illustrations are.
The Blue Table
Written and Illustrated by Chris Raschka
Recommended Ages: 2-5 years old
A tribute to tables everywhere, this simple book shows the abundance a table can hold and the joy it can seat. On an ordinary day, the blue table holds the lives of a family of three. But it also becomes the hub for the planning and preparation of a feast and then grows (literally) to host a joyful meal shared with others. Using simple language, this book recognizes an everyday object—a table—for its specialness: its place in the heart of a home and at the center of fellowship. It’s the ultimate reminder of Thanksgiving—to acknowledge and express gratitude for all the good things in our lives however big or small. One caveat: the watercolor illustrations are lovely but abstract so it may be a little hard for very young kids to identify all the objects they see. Additionally, to my knowledge, this isn’t available as a board book, unfortunately.
For stories about gratitude…
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga
Written by Traci Sorell and Illustrated by Frané Lessac
Recommended Ages: 4-8 years old
When I first came across this book, I thought it would be perfect for a newsletter about the seasons but, by the time I finished it, I decided it was best suited for Thanksgiving. Throughout the seasons, the Cherokee are otsaliheliga as each season brings different things for which to be grateful. It’s a lovely introduction to Cherokee traditions and words and a gentle reminder that gratitude should be year-round. Filled with bright, colorful gouache illustrations you see how traditions fit into the modern-day lives of Cherokee people. At the end of the book are further definitions, a wonderful Author’s Note, and some background on how the Cherokee syllabary (similar to the alphabet) was first developed.
Round The Turkey: A Grateful Thanksgiving
Written by Leslie Kimmelman and Illustrated by Nancy Cote
Recommended Ages: 6-10 years old
This joyful, hilarious story showcases a family coming together to celebrate Thanksgiving and what each member of the family is grateful for. A page is dedicated to each family member who shares their gratitude message (always in rhyme). Even the dog joins in! What I love about the book is its wonderful portrayal of a family—messy, each with their own agendas, but there for each other too. The rhyming text is tailored to the character which means each has it’s own unique voice, rhythm, and cadence making it incredibly fun to read.
For stories about togetherness (through food)…
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
Written by Kevin Noble Maillard and Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
Recommended Ages: 3-6 years old
“If there’s one thing that all Natives can agree upon about fry bread, it’s that everybody else’s version is wrong… Fry bread reflects the vast, deep diversity of Indian Country and there is no single way of making this special food. But it brings together diverse Indigenous communities together through a shared culinary and cultural experience. That’s the beauty of fry bread.” -Kevin Noble Maillard
A delicious glimpse into the community and soul that fry bread offers to a Native American family. With an introduction into what fry bread is, the story moves onto what it does: the sound it makes, the time spent with family and friends making it, and a peek into the past too. It’s an ode to the resilience of the Native nations for the survival of their culture and food. The text is simple and descriptive. It almost feels like the text is narrating the warm illustrations. The soft pencil artwork is dreamy and soothing—it feels like you’re being welcomed into this family’s home and traditions. I highly recommend reading the back notes: there’s a recipe for fry bread if you’d like to try your hand at it and a wonderful explanation of the role it has played in Native cultures.
Thank You, Omu!
Written and Illustrated by Oge Mora
Recommended Ages: 4-8 years old
Omu (pronounced “Ah-moo”) is just sitting down to read after preparing dinner—a tasty red stew—when there’s a knock on the door. She sees a little boy who tells her he can’t resist the delicious smell of the stew that’s wafted down the hall. Omu offers him a bowl. But the fragrance of the stew is so powerful it attracts people from all over the neighborhood. And Omu generously gives everyone some stew. But soon there is none left for her. Until another knock comes on her door and when she opens it she finds all the folks she had fed offering up some food of their own. And what a feast is had as everyone shares what they’ve made with each other. This entire book is an embodiment of that warm tingly thrill of happiness when you’ve got delightful company and a delicious, piping hot plate of food. The muted pastel, collage illustrations are inviting (I spent way too much time looking at the news clippings). This is a cozy read to prep kids for the togetherness and community Thanksgiving brings.
For stories about Thanksgiving…
Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story
Written by Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry, and Alexis Bunten and Illustrated by Gary Meeches Sr.
Recommended Ages: 5+ years old (everyone, of all ages, should read this book!)
A retelling of Thanksgiving from the perspective of the Wampanoag nation who were the first to greet the “newcomers” from England in the 1600s. The story begins in modern-day as two young girls beg their grandmother for a story. She agrees and the next page takes us back in time. In the fall, Weeâchumun (corn) senses the arrival of new people and asks her friend, Fox, to keep an eye on them. When Weeâchumun awakens in the spring, Fox informs her that the newcomers are starving. Weeâchumun sends a dream-message to the Wampanoag tribes and encourages them to teach the newcomers how to live off the land. When fall arrives again, the First Peoples and the newcomers come together to celebrate Keepunumuk (harvest).
This retelling is so powerful—it shows the harmony between the First Peoples and Nature and a recognition that they need each other to survive. It’s this gift that the Wampanoag people offer to the newcomers.
There’s only one sentence that alludes to the fact that this day serves as a reminder of heartbreak for Native people and it’s more of a hint than anything else. Nevertheless, it opens the door to having a more meaningful conversation about Native Americans, their history with the holiday, and how they feel about it. If you’re interested in having a more robust conversation with kids about this, I highly recommend this resource which provides age-appropriate guides.
Written by Laurie Friedman and Illustrated by Teresa Murfin
Recommended Ages: 5-9 years old
Percy Isaac Gifford has one mission and one mission only: how quickly can he get to mealtime on Thanksgiving Day? As determined as he is, he also knows that getting to mealtime requires some patience and finesse. P.I.G. guides us on a few “rules” that will make sure Thanksgiving is a smashing success. Quite a few pages are dedicated to the worship of all that is good about Thanksgiving dinner and you can see that this is something Percy looks forward to all year—he might even inspire some fussy eaters to give some new things a try. This is an entertaining, boisterous read filled with bright, colorful sketchwork teeming with all the details that make Thanksgiving memorable. The rhyme is well done and makes for a fun read-aloud.
❓What’s your favorite part of Thanksgiving? Also, have you ever hosted before (and would you do it again? 😅)?
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