Educator-Approved Thanksgiving Book Recommendations

© Western New Mexico University

“The history of Thanksgiving was not all happy encounters and smiles everywhere,” says Dr. Alexandra Neves, who is Chair of the Teacher Education Programs in the WNMU College of Education. “Of course, there is nothing wrong with celebrating and being thankful during this time or year, but we can learn and expand our knowledge when we include indigenous perspectives.”

When sharing the story of Thanksgiving with children, Dr. Neves suggests starting with what children already know about the holiday. “They might have heard of the history and traditions before. We then give them a chance to see that there is a different side to the story they might have heard,” she says. “It’s also important that children understand that Native Americans have not disappeared.”

A great way to learn together is by reading indigenous-authored picture books that talk about the holiday from a Native American perspective rather than from the European colonists’. “There are plenty of books and guides out there that can help parents and teachers to discuss these issues.”

To name a few, Dr. Neves recommends:

  • “Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving” by Joseph Bruchac
  • “The Circle of Thanks: Native American Poems and Songs of thanksgiving” by Joseph Bruchac
  • “Clambake: A Wampanoag Tradition (We Are Still Here: Native Americans Today)” by Russel M. Peters
  • “1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving” by Catherine O’Neill Grace
  • “We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga” by Traci Sorell (Cherokee)

WNMU College of Education Professor Dr. Margarita P. Wulftange recommends families also read “Encounter” by Jane Yolen with children.

“Yolen is an excellent author who writes on some complex issues geared toward children and young adults,” she says. “I have used this book mainly with students in kindergarten and first, fourth and fifth grades but with highschoolers as well.”

A child’s perspective on the arrival of Columbus on the island of San Salvador in 1492 and a warning on the ensuing events, “Encounter” serves well in a comparative analysis of the messages children’s books give about indigenous peoples, Thanksgiving, the arrival of Europeans to the Americas, and indigenous peoples’ interactions with other cultures.

“The book is not about Thanksgiving per se, but it brings in other aspects about what happened around 1492 and on, in the Americas,” Dr. Wulftange says. “By using analysis of different children’s books, students are able to use higher order and critical thinking to determine how different people may have different perspectives on the same event.”

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