Well, it’s that time of year when teachers and parents look for books that celebrate Thanksgiving. Ultimately, Thanksgiving in the United States is a holiday to give thanks, eat copious amounts of food and spend time with family. The history of the holiday however is very much sugar coated and this is evident in a lot of Thanksgiving children’s literature…
If diverse literature is necessary for our children’s growth, we must be sure to let diverse voices speak, and speak clearly and true.
Most people don’t even know that the Pilgrims interacted with Wampanoag Indians. People just know about “Pilgrims and Indians.” There is rarely any discussion about what happened after the sharing of food (broken treaties, take-over of land, violence and disease). Some people think that children are too young to know the real history but I beg to differ; almost any topic can be brought to a level that children can understand and handle. The relationship between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag involved understanding and protection. There were treaties, agreements and opportunities for celebration. The Wampanoag taught the Pilgrims how to harvest and survive on their land. The first “Thanksgiving” as we’ve come to call it, happened in 1621 and was a result of the Pilgrims shooting off guns to celebrate a successful harvest. Wampanoag leader Massasoit sent warriors to check out the ruckus but realized they were just celebrating, so he and his men joined in on the celebrations, hunted and brought food.
Perhaps many teachers are anxiously waiting to see their students dressed up as Pilgrims and Indians but please keep in mind that 1) There is a long and problematic history of “playing Indian” and cultural appropriation in our country’s history 2) dressing up as Native peoples reinforces the idea that Native people are only in the past; most people in the U.S. can’t name any contemporary Native American activists, musicians, writers, actors, lawmakers, etc. Also, many children’s books don’t bother to accurately illustrate the regalia (not costumes) of Wampanoag people; any old “Indian outfit” will do as long as it is cute. Representation is important.
Listed below is one really cool book and several GREAT links and resources for your consideration this Thanksgiving season.
Happy Thanksgiving! Gobble Gobble!
1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving (I Am American) by Catherine O’Neil Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac, 2004 National Geographic Children’s Books, ISBN: 9780792261391
American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving– Really great resource from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
The Real History of Thanksgiving Teacher’s Guide– History Channel Resource
Best Thanksgiving Books for Children– Good list of books
Are You Teaching the Real Story of the “First Thanksgiving?”– Great Education World article
What Really Happened on the First Thanksgiving? -Indian Country Today Media Network Article