Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thinking about Thanksgiving (ages 5 - 12)

I've never been fully comfortable with the Thanksgiving story.  In part, the classic pictures of Pilgrims and Indians seemed so cookie-cutter perfect, so fake to me.  In part, it was hard to relate to the Pilgrims' story as I was growing up in California.  But I've been thinking more and more about how Native Americans are portrayed in children's books, thanks in part to my fellow librarian Jen Ammenti.  I realize that I am just beginning my thoughts down this road, but I wanted to share some of my reflections.  I also wanted to recommend some wonderful resources for talking about Thanksgiving with your children.
1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving
by Catherine Grace and Margaret Bruchac
DC: National Geographic Children's Books, 2004
(ages 8 - 12)
This book delves into the history of the Wampanoag people and the English settlers in Plimoth to describe the actual events of the "first Thanksgiving."  In looking more closely at the history, a more complex and textured look at these people develops than the traditional stories told in schools across the country. Co-authors Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac worked closely with Plimoth Plantation historians to tell the whole story by including the voices of all who were involved.

Traditionally, both English and Wampanoag cultures gathered to celebrate the harvest, but the gathering in 1621 took place for politcal reasons and was unlikely to be called Thanksgiving.  In October of 2000, Plimoth Plantation cooperated with the Wampanoag community to stage an historically accurate reenactment of the 1621 harvest celebration. The photographs taken by Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson capture the spirit of the event and bring it to life.

For younger readers, I would suggest the books by Kate Waters which look at children who might have lived during this time period.  These are reenactments of what the lives of individual children might have been like, based on factual historical accounts.  Giving Thanks tells the story of Resolved White, a 6-year-old English boy, and Dancing Moccasins, a 14-year-old Wampanoag youth.  It is accessible to younger children, although I talked with my children about how these are photographs of actors reenacting what the lives of these children would have been like.  My children were interested in how this showed two different perspectives, two different cultures coming together.
Giving Thanks: The 1621 Harvest Feast
by Kate Waters
photographs by Russ Kendall
NY: Scholastic, 2001
(ages 5 - 9)
I particularly liked how Sarah Morton's day : a day in the life of a pilgrim girl talked about the perspective of a young girl living during this time period.  I remember being fascinated as a young girl with how much time each chore took, and how everyone had to contribute to the family's survival.  This does not specifically talk about the Thanksgiving feast, but rather looks at a young girl's life at this time.
Sarah Morton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl
by Kate Waters

photographs by Russ Kendall
NY: Scholastic, 2001
(ages 4 - 9)

What am I taking away from this? The first thing I'm realizing is how much I don't know.  But another thing that I realize is how we need to share with our children how different the various tribes of Native Americans were.  We cannot group California Miwok in the same group as the mid-Atlantic Lenni Lenape.  When we share folktales and stories, it's important to talk with our children about where these came from specifically.  Finally, I want to include talking with my children about how Native Americans live today - this is not just a culture from the past, but from the present too.

If you would like to look into these issues more in depth, I would recommend Oyate Web Page "Deconstructing the Myths of 'The First Thanksgiving'". Oyate is "a Native organization working to see that our lives and histories are portrayed honestly, and so that all people will know our stories belong to us. For Indian children, it is as important as it has ever been for them to know who they are and what they come from."  Debbie Reese also writes a very interesting blog called American Indians in Children's Literature.  She wrote recently about American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving.  I would also like to recognize Carol Rasco, CEO of Reading is Fundamental, for her thoughtful blog post about rethinking Thanksgiving.

For more nonfiction resources for children, please check out Nonfiction Monday, a regular feature of Kidlitosphere bloggers.  For today's posts, visit Diane Chen's blog Practially Paradise at the School Library Journal.

The review copies came from my local and school libraries.  You can find these at your local library by searching WorldCat.  If you make a purchase by clicking through to Amazon, Great Kid Books receives a small percentage, which will be used to buy more books to review.

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