Thanksgiving books are probably the most sought-after holiday books in my library. As a white librarian who strives to do less harm, Thanksgiving books give me pause. Children are still being taught the Thanksgiving myth, while some people consider Thanksgiving a day of mourning. We serve all of them as members of our community. How can we fulfill the demand for books while avoiding harmful stereotypes and misinformation?
Step one is to evaluate our collections and keep evaluating them. It may be impossible at this moment in time to get rid of all the books that perpetuate the Thanksgiving myth. I know several years ago, we looked at our Thanksgiving books and determined that if we weeded the books that contained the Thanksgiving myth, we would have almost nothing left and there weren’t better books to fill the demand. That’s getting better every year (for which I am thankful!).
If you’re starting to evaluate your collection with regards to how it represents indigenous people, don’t miss Debbie Reese’s blog American Indians in Children’s Literature. Resources from the American Indian Library Association (AILA) may be helpful in this work, too.
I know that even having that option to replace dated and offensive titles comes from a place of privilege. So I wanted to start a list that might help.
This list is far from exhaustive and if you have suggestions, I welcome them in comments!
Thanksgiving Books About the Holiday
These picture books depict Thanksgiving celebrations without mentioning the myth. They focus on current Thanksgiving traditions, including gathering with family to share food and express gratitude for what we have.
- Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin, 2011).
- Dino-Thanksgiving by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Barry Gott (Carolrhoda Books, 2020).
- Fangsgiving by Ethan Long (Bloomsbury, 2018).
- Friendsgiving by Nancy Siscoe, illustrated by Sabina Gibson (Balzer + Bray, 2020).
- Not This Turkey! by Jessica Steinberg, illustrated by Amanda Pike (Albert Whitman, 2016).
- Over the River and Through the Wood illustrated by Emma Randall (Penguin Workshop, 2018).
- Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jill McElmurry (Schwartz & Wade, 2015) *Does mention and contain illustrations of “pilgrim hats” as decorations
- Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes, illustrated by Doris Barrette (Harper, 2004).
- Thanksgiving for Emily Ann by Teresa Johnston, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Cartwheel, 2014).
Thanksgiving Books from an Indigenous Perspective
Is striving to erase all mention of indigenous people the best route for handling Thanksgiving books? Maybe not. Consider displaying or suggesting to patrons that they check out books by indigenous authors. These nonfiction books are aimed at older elementary ages kids and families and are written by Native authors. The information in these books may help families discuss the fraught history of this holiday.
- 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac with Plimoth Plantation, photographs by Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson (National Geographic, 2001).
- If You Lives During the Plimoth Thanksgiving by Chris Newell, illustrated by Winona Nelson (Scholastic, 2021).
- Keepunumuk: Weeachumun’s Thanksgiving Story by Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry, and Alexis Bunten, illustrated by Garry Meeches Sr. (Charlesbridge, 2022).
You could also consider suggesting and/or displaying other books by indigenous people to go alongside Thanksgiving books. November is Native American Heritage Month, after all! American Indian Youth Literature Award winners and honorees are a great place to start.
Books About Family or Friend Gatherings and Food
These picture books depict families or friends gathering to share food without mentioning any specific holiday. Although not specifically Thanksgiving books, these and others like them may still fit the bill for sharing with families during this season.
- All for Pie, Pie for All by David Martin, illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev (Candlewick, 2006).
- Around the Table That Grandad Built by Melanie Heuiser Hill, illustrated by Jaime Kim (Candlewick, 2019).
- Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson (McElderry Books, 2012).
- The Blue Table by Chris Raschka (Greenwillow, 2020).
- Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Roaring Brook, 2019).
- Grandma’s Tiny House by JeNay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Charlesbridge, 2016).
- The Little Kids’ Table by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle, illustrated by Mary Uhles (Sleeping Bear, 2015).
- The Rice in the Pot Goes Round and Round by Wendy Wan Long Shang, illustrated by Lorian Tu (Scholastic, 2021).
- Thank You, Omu by Oge Mora (Little, Brown, 2018).
Books About Gratitude
Consider sharing books about gratitude with your library families this season. No matter how (or if) they celebrate Thanksgiving, these books may help kids and families think about what they’re thankful for.
- We Are Grateful by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac (Charlesbridge, 2018).
- If Animals Gave Thanks by Ann Whitford Paul, illustrated by David Walker (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2020).
- The Thank You Book by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018).
- Thankful by Elaine Vickers, illustrated by Samantha Cotterill (Simon, 2021).
- The Thankful Book by Todd Parr (Little, Brown, 2012).
How do you handle the demand for Thanksgiving books at your library? Do you have any titles or tips to share?
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group and IV. Collection Knowledge and Management.
Great post! Thank you for your compilations.
Some of my favorite picture books by Native authors:
At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre
Birdsong by Julie Flett
First Laugh: Welcome, Baby! by Rose Ann Tahe and Nancy Bo Flood, illustrated by Jonathan Nelson
Holler Loudly by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Johnny’s Pheasant by Cheryl Minnema, illustrated by Julie Flett
My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett
Thanku: Poems of Gratitute, edited by Miranda Paul with illustrations by Marlena Myles
We All Play by Julie Flett
Gracias/Thanks by Pat Mora, illustrated by John Parra
Thanks a Lot by Raffi, illustrated by Jaime Kim