In this episode we look at books about the history of Thanksgiving, the traditions of today’s Thanksgiving, and building an attitude of gratitude in our families.
Books Discussed in This Episode
Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids.
Today, we’re going to look at books that go with Thanksgiving. And since this is the beginning of November, I thought we could take time to talk about books of Thanksgiving, so you have time to get them if you want to read them for the Thanksgiving holiday. First, let’s look at some great books–picture books and story books–about the history of the American Thanksgiving. I want to share some books with you that I just have loved over the years. I love Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday because of the family time we have together and the being thankful, helping our kids to understand the importance of Thanksgiving, of being thankful for what God has provided for us. I think teaching our children to be thankful is one of the most powerful things we can teach them. It helps them to be grateful for what they have and to look at the blessings in their lives, even when going through hard times. And so I think as parents, we really have the responsibility to help them understand the power and the importance of being grateful.
And part of that with Thanksgiving is also the history. And I know that some today would rather us change the history or not talk about what happened back then, but history is history, and we learn from history when we teach what history really was all about. I think it’s also important to help children see things from another person’s perspective, and part of that is understanding that the mindset back then, right or wrong, was what it was. I think sometimes we vilify historical figures because we’re judging them from a 21st century perspective. And we have to help our children understand that their attitudes were different. Their understanding was different. I mean, even Mark Twain–his family owned slaves, and it wasn’t until he met his wife. From what I understand of the history, he met his wife and she was an abolitionist. She was from Connecticut. She did not agree that slavery was okay. Well, for Mark Twain, he had never even thought about it. It was just a way of life in his family at that time. And in his culture where he grew up and sad and as horrible and evil as it was, he had no other understanding. And so then when he was exposed to this other way of thinking, he started realizing this isn’t right. And you see it in his writing of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. There’s one line, my favorite line in the whole book–I feel like it is the climactic line, the turning point for Huck Finn’s understanding–is when he realizes that Jim is a person; he realizes he has pain from missing his family and regrets for the way he treated his daughter. And he sees him for the first time as a human being. And to me, that is so powerful. And we know that Mark Twain changed his viewpoint. He changed his attitude about slavery once he was exposed to the other way of thinking.
So what we need to do is when we study history and we see these attitudes that today we find appalling and of course would never want our children to think slavery was okay, or to think that it’s okay to go and just take over someone else’s land. So when we teach our children, we need to help them understand that we learn from history. We learn from the mistakes of the past; we help our kids to understand the thinking that was prevalent back then, why they did what they did, and then, was it right? Would it be right for us to do that today, and help them to think through these things. We want to raise thinkers. We want to raise people who can reason and debate and think through, and not just accept everything that they’re fed at face value.
We have a foundation of character traits and biblical teaching of the truth of what is right and wrong. What is good and bad. And we live our lives. According to that, we want to help our children to embrace those values as well. And to understand how to then look at whatever situation they face and understand how to navigate the complexity of life as they live it out. If we just jump on a bandwagon without really examining what the people are teaching and what their foundational ideas are, why they did what they did, the motivation behind what’s going on, we wind up just being blind followers who buy into whatever sounds good at the moment. It’s a recipe for disaster in many situations. So I think when we’re talking about Thanksgiving, we need to help our children have a wider view and understand what was going on at the time and what the thinking was at the time.
Okay. So I’ll give you a really quick little history lesson. And if you remember your history, the Puritans were the Protestants who pulled away from the Church of England because they wanted to live a life, a simple life, following the Bible and not following the church of England. And so they were being persecuted, and they had gone to Holland to try to find freedom, but their civil rights were also hindered. And they didn’t like what was being taught in that culture. They felt that it was wrong, and it was against what they believed and that their children were growing up in that culture. So they decided they needed to go to the New World.
So that’s what’s behind the Pilgrims. And of course, pilgrim means traveler, usually a religious traveler going somewhere because of their faith. And usually we talk about pilgrimages going to a Holy site, but in this case, the Pilgrims were going to find religious freedom in the new world. That is a part of our heritage here in the United States. So through talking about the history of Thanksgiving, I feel like we can focus on civil rights. We can talk about the heritage that we have as a result. We can talk about religious persecution. And then, of course, we want to talk about thankfulness. So this month, for sure, we want to talk about Thanksgiving and being thankful and the power of being thankful. It changes your whole outlook on life. So let me share a few fun books with you.
Now, some of these, you know, me, I have books that I have kept for years. And so some of these, if you wanted to buy them, you would have to buy a used copy, probably, because they are so old, but I’ve hung onto them because they’re so great. I just love them. Okay. So one of the books, and you can still get this one, even though it is quite old is The First Thanksgiving Feast by Joan Anderson. And it’s got photographs by George Ancona. And this is where there are several books I like that are from the reenactment of the Pilgrim’s life in the Plymouth Plantation today, which is like a living museum where you can see how they lived their lives. And so this is one of those. So everything in this book is a photograph taken from the reenactment of the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth Plantation, along the same lines. We have Samuel Eaton’s Day; A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy by Kate Waters, photographs by Russ Kendall. And this is at the Plymouth Plantation. It goes through the process of what they wore and how they would go through their day and what responsibilities a young boy would have in that day and time. And so it’s very eye-opening for our students, for our children to see all that this little boy would have to do. I mean, just reading it makes you tired. Same with the one that’s about Tapenum’s Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times. And again, this one is also with photographs from the living museum of the Plymouth Plantation. And in addition to those two, we have Sarah Morton’s Day. These are all by Kate waters. The photography is by Russ Kendall, and they are all from the Plymouth Plantation. And so it takes you through a typical day for a young boy, Samuel Eaton, or Tapenum, who is one of the native American child, and then Sarah Morton. One of my favorite parts of the Sarah Morton’s Day is just looking at how she had to get dressed, the layers and layers and layers she had to put on every day. And, you know, we complain when we’re uncomfortable in our clothing. I just get the sense that there was very little comfort in their life. Everything was hard. Work, expectations were high on each of these young children to fulfill their responsibilities. And it was just the life they were used to. But if we imagined ourselves in that situation, our kids would probably cry. These are excellent books, excellent resources for helping our children to see what the life was like during that time. And then we have one by these same two people, Kate Waters and Russ Kendall On the Mayflower: Voyage of the Ship Apprentice and a Passenger Girl. So this is taking a look at what life would have been like actually on the Mayflower, as it is reenacted as a living museum as well. Same thing with the photographs of the different people, portraying life on the Mayflower. If you go to Plymouth today, of course, you can see the replica of the Mayflower that they have anchored at the shore there in Plymouth, near Plymouth Plantation. And you can go to Plymouth Plantation and see the living museum. But even if you don’t do that, just going to Plymouth and touring all the different shops is cool. My husband’s family has a museum there, a real small museum, at the Harlow House because that’s some of his family’s heritage. And so it’s really eye-opening and a lot of fun to see the culture from that time, the history that has been preserved. If you go to the Harlow House, it’s a small museum. Mr. Harlow didn’t come over on the Mayflower. He came right after in one of the groups that came over, but he was a Coopersmith. So he built barrels for supplies and stuff like that. But if you go to that museum, they let you weave. They let you try some of the different skills that these children would have done on a daily basis, that they would have learned and known how to do. And so that was a lot of fun for my kids to get to do that.
Another book that I really love is called Three Young Pilgrims by Cheryl Harness. And it is based on three real children who came over on the Mayflower. It talks about the life of that time. The pictures in here, I just love the pictures. They’re very detailed. They show a lot of information and they label the parts of the ship. It’s a very wonderful educational book that if you can get a copy of it, I’ve hung onto it for years, because it is so full of great information about life back then. And what happened to some of the people who came over on the Mayflower. If you remember your history, half the people died either coming over or during that first winter when they arrived here because they arrived much later than they planned. And so life was very difficult and these children lost their mother.
Then we have some books that are a lot of fun. This one was from 91, so it’s still kind of old. If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620, and this book, it takes you through what life was like on the Mayflower. It tells the history of why they left, why they didn’t stay, where they were, the details of how many people were on the Mayflower. There was a baby, of course we know, born on the Mayflower, and he was named Oceanus. It talks about what they ate. Just the whole thing of what it was like to be on the Mayflower.
This one, I really like. It’s called You Wouldn’t Want to Sail on the Mayflower. And this one was from 2013, so still it’s not brand new or anything, but it’s written by Peter Cook and illustrated by Kevin Whelan. And it’s just a fun, crazy look at the Mayflower and what life would have been like. And I just liked that they titled it You Wouldn’t Want To, and they have several in that series of You Wouldn’t Want To books. And, of course, we have Horrible Histories as well, that I’ve mentioned before, that appeal more to the middle-schooler and your sixth graders through middle school and even into high school. There’s a lot of great books you can look at for history.
Then we have just fun children’s stories that you can get for your kids that talk about life back then and what they went through that are told from a different perspective. For instance, we have one that is called Pilgrim Cat written by Carol Antoinette Peacock and illustrated by Doris Ettlinger. The illustrations are really nice. The story is told from the perspective of a little girl’s experience with the cat on the ship. The writer found out that there were cats that did come across on the Mayflower with the Pilgrims. And so she made up this fictional story about little Faith, a little Pilgrim girl who was on the Mayflower, befriending this little cat, she named Pounce. And it is just an adorable little story. And again, it covers all the history of the Pilgrims’ first year, their travels on the Mayflower, and also their encounter with Squanto and the different Indian tribes, as well as the first Thanksgiving.
Now, when we talk about Thanksgiving, there are many books about Squanto. And one of the ones that I have is Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas. And it is a really great retelling of his story. He is, his life was so fascinating. He was one of those people who learned to persevere, to forgive, to continue on, and make the best of whatever life brought his way. He was taken into slavery. Then he went to England and learned English. He, my understanding is, he became a believer in Christ, and he came back home to find that his whole tribe had died from a disease, I think smallpox, that had been introduced by different explorers. He was the only one of his tribe left. And so he came and lived among the Wampanoags and the other Indian tribes in that area. And he also helped the Pilgrims to communicate with the local tribes. If it weren’t for Squanto, we probably wouldn’t have the same story we have of Thanksgiving, because it would have been much more difficult for the Pilgrims to communicate with the Native Americans. He also taught them how to plant and how to put fish in the ground to help fertilize the ground so that the corn would grow. He introduced them to growing corn. So Squanto really was a catalyst in the Pilgrims’ lives to help them survive in America. It’s sad all he went through, but it’s wonderful to see how God redeemed the situation and used his life in such a profound way.
Now let’s look at some books that celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving and the traditions we celebrate today during the fall months. During the Thanksgiving holiday, we always try to invite someone who’s new to our country, either an international student or an international person who’s working in our area that this is their first Thanksgiving. We try to share that with them in our family here in California, we typically get together at my aunt’s house, and there will be over 20 people at our Thanksgiving. And it is a wonderful feast and a wonderful time of fellowship. And we love bringing people into that time and showing them what an American Thanksgiving is like today.
There’s some really cute little story books, of course, about being thankful. One of them is called I Am Thankful: A Thanksgiving Book for Kids by Sherri Wall, illustrations by Holly Clifton-Brown. And this is a cute story. It says “The calendar says November is here. The leaves do a dance. Fall colors appear. Family and friends with grins ear to ear will gather together. Thanksgiving is near.” And so it shows different families getting together for the holiday and shows the American Thanksgiving basically, and the children are helping get ready for Thanksgiving. They help grandma go shopping. They help mom clean the house. And then it says, “I am thankful. My heart grows. Love fills me from head to toes. We load into cars and drive many miles. The patch is so full of long pumpkin aisles. I climb in the wagon and sit on hay seats. The farmer’s lips whistle as he drives through the streets.” And so it shares the experience of going to a pumpkin patch and taking a hayride and making the different Thanksgiving treats. And I just love it because it shows so much of the culture of what we do at Thanksgiving and the different family activities that we take part in typically during this time of the year. And so it’s just a really cute book, but it comes back to always, “I am thankful; my heart grows. Love, fills me from head to toes.” And that’s repeated through the book on different sections as they do the different activities. So I really liked that. And then it ends with, “Here are some ways you can show you are thankful: make an ‘I am thankful’ poster.” And so it shows different things you can do as activities as a family. “Draw And pass out thank you cards. Make your own thankful turkey placemats. Make a family thankfulness tree. Play the thankfulness countdown.” And it outlines all of those. So it’s just an adorable little book that I think celebrates what Thanksgiving today is all about.
A fun and silly book that just really drives home the modern day Thanksgiving and what Thanksgiving is really all about is Thanksgiving at the Tappletons’ and this one’s by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler. I don’t think I had this on the calendar for your, for the readings, but it’s a great book to pick up and read for Thanksgiving. So you might want to add it to your list.
I love Glenys Nellist’s book Snuggle Time Fall Blessings. If you haven’t read that little board book, it’s wonderful, and it’s a rhyming book. That is another one that would be a lot of fun to read with your kids. And it celebrates all the different activities we do during this time of the year: bonfires, pumpkin patches, and those different activities.
Finally, let’s look at books about having a heart of gratitude. There are some very sweet books out there that can help us help our children learn to be thankful. A couple of special books I found on gratitude: One is simply the lyrics to the song that was recorded by Art Garfunkel. It’s called Grateful: a Song of Giving Thanks. And it’s by John Bucchino and illustrated by Anna-Liisa Hakkarainen. And this is just a sweet book. If you’ve ever read the lyrics to the song Grateful by art Garfunkel, it is just such a nice song lyric. And then the illustrations just bring the song to life. It’s a very sweet book.
Another very sweet book is Look and Be Grateful by Tomie de Paola. And he, you probably know, is a wonderful children’s book illustrator and children’s author. His books are very simple word-wise. It’s mostly the pictures that tell the story. This is just a lovely, lovely book.
And then another very sweet book is called. Thank You God, by Jay Bradley Wigger and illustrated by Jago, one of my favorite illustrators that I just love. And this book is a very heartwarming Christian book that just has you stop and look around and be thankful for all that God has given us.
Then we have another book, and it’s called God Gave Us Thankful Hearts by Lisa Tawn Bergren and the art is by David Hohn. And it says, well, there you are a little wolf puppy. “Mama Said, ‘Why are you looking so glum?’ ‘I don’t know,’ He mumbled I’m just sad.'” And so the mama says, “How can you be sad on such a beautiful day? Because the leaves are changing colors and soon it will be winter.” “I like spring, summer and fall when I can play with all my friends. Hibernatin’ season is boring.” “You’ll still have some friends about come winter. And there’s a reason for us to be thankful in every season, little pup. We need winter to let the land, and some of your friends, have a rest. Otherwise we wouldn’t get spring.” And it shows the bears–they’re going to go take a nap, and the birds flying South. “But Everyone is going to be hibernatin’.” And he grumbled “The chipmunks and bears, the badgers and bats. Even the raccoons, beavers and squirrels won’t come out much.” “‘What about the skunks and bees? You won’t see much of them, either,’ Mama said. Little pup smiled. I guess I could be thankful about that.” And it shows all the different animals going to go take a nap. It says, “We can be thankful for how God paints our forest every autumn,’ Mama said. ‘Yeah, But I’m not thankful for poison Ivy,’ Little Pup said remembering the time he rolled in a patch by accident. ‘It Makes you so itchy.’ ‘True, but you can be thankful you know how to avoid it now. Right?’ ‘I guess.'” So she’s working to try to help him find ways to be thankful in helping him to think of things, and he’s just in a grumpy mood. But I think it’s a really cute little story that would be great to read with your kids, especially if they’re kind of grumpy and not feeling thankful–to help them think about being thankful.
There are quite a few board books and picture books that have to do with being thankful. I sent out an email to my mailing list about the thankfulness and advent calendars that I created for November and December. If you haven’t downloaded that yet, I’ll put the link in the show notes, but I have created a calendar with a book a day for you to read for the months of November and December. And if you’re getting a late start, don’t worry about it. That’s not a problem, but it should give you some great ideas to talk to your librarian about, to get from your local library, or if you want to buy some special books for your children to share each year during the holiday season, these are some suggestions I have. There are so many books about these two topics, as you can imagine, since these are the biggest holidays in America. Many books have been written about Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I tried to find some that I thought would really bless you and your family. And I also added some notes at the bottom of each calendar for board books for your very young readers.
Thank you for joining us for books that spark a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope our discussion will spark meaningful conversations with the children in your life.
Winner of Our Drawing
Congratulations, Annette C. for winning a signed copy of Little Mole’s Christmas Gift. So happy for you!
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.
Disclaimer: Although Terrie majored in psychology and sociology for her bachelor’s degree and has taught AP Psychology, she is NOT a licensed therapist. She sometimes mentions items in her blog and podcast that could be considered comments on psychology, but these comments are based on ministry experience and ministering to people through the missions and church work she’s done for the past 36 years. If you have questions about psychological disorders or counseling needs, please consider finding a reputable, licensed counselor in your area. Terrie’s comments should be seen as anecdotal and ministry-experience-related or scripture-based. Thank you!