Books About Thanksgiving, Then and Now

Eliza Clark
November 9, 2017

What can Thanksgiving teach young children, besides the importance of saying thank you and a taste for pumpkin pie? A sense, however fuzzy, of the past. The concrete and, well, edible nature of Thanksgiving makes it an ideal introduction to the notion that as some things change, others stay the same. In most respects, our lives could not be more different than those of the Pilgrims and Wapanoags who gathered to give thanks in the fall of 1621. And yet, just as they did long ago, we still like to have big parties and feast until we're stuffed.

So do read some of these lovely stories about Thanksgivings past and present to your little ones—they will eat them up!

The Very First Thanksgiving Day by Rhonda Greene

This beautifully illustrated volume will take you and the little one on your knee all the way back to the days of the Mayflower, Plymouth, and the harvest feast of 1621 shared by the English Pilgrims and the Wampanoag of Massachusetts Bay. Simple, lyrical text and carefully researched, not to mention gorgeous pictures make this a good way to introduce the history of Thanksgiving. Visual details draw the youngest listeners into this strange world: English and Indian girls play with their dolls; children plant corn, harvest and feast; and much more.  

Sarah Morton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl by Kate Waters

This well-researched photographic picture book shows just how different life was for children in 17th century America than it is today. Kids are fascinated by the pictures and story alike. Based on a real, historical child, the book brings a distant time to life. In the same series, and equally worthwhile, see Samuel Eaton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy and Tapenum's Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times.

Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac

This wonderful book and valuable teaching tool tells the story of Thanksgiving from a perspective new to many. Squanto was a member of the Patuxet tribe, kidnapped as a young man by an English sea captain, and trained as an interpreter. He is famous for his role in helping the Pilgrims survive in New England by teaching them maize cultivation. This book tells the complex story of his life and times with authentic detail and a moving point of view.

Over the River and Through the Wood: A Thanksgiving Poem by Lydia Maria Child

The first Thanksgiving may have taken place in the 17th Century, but Thanksgiving was reborn as a national holiday in the 19th Century—and here is its most famous ode. Originally published in an anthology for children in 1840, this lovely poem is a true classic and not to be missed. It takes you and your little ones back to a time when the way to grandfather's house for Thanksgiving was not via an airplane crammed with cranky passengers or a traffic-jammed highway but rather by sleigh "through white and drifted snow." Just imagine! But however different the times, we can still shout together "Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!"

Hardscrabble Harvest by Dahlov Ipcar

A family farm fends off the mischievous animals that nibble away at their crops night and day. Told in amusing verse, this story shows the rigors of New England farm life and the bounty of the Thanksgiving harvest. 

Thanksgiving Day by Anne Rockwell

Wondering what the story of Thanksgiving really looks like from a preschooler's perspective? This sweet and clever book follows a preschool class full of children of diverse races as they learn the story of the encounter between Pilgrims and Wampanoag. The pictures teach as much as the words here, telling a story about friendship across race and culture that transcends the origins of Turkey-day.

Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes

If Thanksgiving traditions prompt us to contemplate times past, the preschoolers in our midst require us to stay firmly grounded in the here and now. This book celebrates all the little things that little persons are most thankful for: playground fun, school, music and art, mommy and daddy, and turkey and pie too (and it includes a page for writing thankful thoughts every year). And what are we most thankful for? These beautiful children, of course. 

From the Parents

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