Thanksgiving Reading

Thanksgiving is somehow the only holiday that doesn’t seem to sneak up on me. I appreciate that.

I like the idea of a holiday that is about reflecting on the things that are truly valuable in our lives. Plus pie. Can’t go wrong with that.

It’s possibly my favorite holiday. We haven’t traveled for it in a few years, since Petra was a baby, and doing “Friendsgiving” turns out to be a total delight. This year, for the first time in a long time, we are actually traveling a bit–we’ll be driving to a friend’s house in town.

I used to feel a liiiiiiittle bit conflicted about Thanksgiving’s history. Like Columbus Day, it has some pretty awful colonialist overtones. The history of genocide is hard to escape, even if you mask it with little kids in Pilgrim and Indian costumes. But then, last year, I read the kids a picture book called Squanto’s Journey. I can’t recommend this book enough. It tells the story of Squanto, from his early life through the First Thanksgiving. He had an amazing life, and none of it was anything I had ever heard in history class. He was treated well by some English people, and then was kidnapped by some others. He ended up living in a monastery in Spain for several years. The monks helped him get to England, where he convinced an English trading vessel to take him back to North America. And when he got back to the village where he had lived, he found it emptied–the people had died of a disease brought by the Europeans. And that was exactly where the Pilgrims wound up building Plymouth (they believed that God had cleared out these Native people for their convenience…ahem). Imagine, going out of your way to help the people who built a settlement right where your own home used to be! Of course, the Pilgrims weren’t directly responsible for ousting the Patuxet, but they easily could have been.

And here’s an amazing thing. I always thought that the friendship between the Pilgrims and Indians was something we make a big deal out of when we tell little kids about it, but that it really lasted a very short time and then everyone got back to killing each other. I learned from Squanto’s Journey that the peace that Squanto brokered between the Pilgrims and several groups of indigenous people lasted for fifty years. That means that every man, woman, and child at that Thanksgiving table was dead or very old by the time relations between the people in that area broke down. It’s a beautiful reminder that sharing a meal connects people, and that the first Thanksgiving really was, as we were taught in elementary school, an enduring peace.

I don’t think Squanto’s Journey should be the only book you read your kids about the first Thanksgiving. It definitely assumes familiarity with the more commonly known version of the story. Silas recently listened to Magic Treehouse: Thanksgiving on Thursday, which has Jack and Annie going back to the first Thanksgiving, so he understood the context.

On a very slightly related note, we also recently read Tomie dePaola’s The Popcorn Book. Among other interesting facts, it says that Indians brought popcorn to the first Thanksgiving. I don’t know why, but we all found this very funny (along with many of the other facts in the book. Who knew there was so much to learn about popcorn?).

The other Thanksgiving read I want to recommend is Balloons Over Broadway, about the inventor of those big balloons in the Macy’s parade. The guy who made them used to design marionettes…and he conceived them as upside down marionettes. Think about that one for a minute. The story of how he invented the balloons, with the problem solving, engineering, and artistry he had to call upon, is inspiring, and beautifully rendered in this picture book. We’re looking forward to watching the parade with new eyes this year (assuming we can figure out how to stream it. Cord cutters, do you have any leads?).

I hope your Thanksgiving is delightful. And if your relatives are too crazy, you have my permission to slip off to a quiet corner and hide your nose in a book until the smoke alarm rings to call you to dinner.


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