Mindfully Reading Books About Thanksgiving With Kids
Thanksgiving is this week, which means many homes, libraries, and schools will celebrate the holiday season by reading stories about Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, many children’s books about Thanksgiving and the First Thanksgiving are riddled in inaccurate, incomplete information and stereotypes. It is true that the Pilgrims held a celebratory feast after their first successful harvest that was attended by Wampanoag people in 1621, a peace that lasted lasted for a generation at most. For many across the nation this American holiday is a time of gathering for friends and family, but it is also acknowledged as a National Day of Mourning.
I want to be clear that I myself am learning how to mindfully read books that highlight American Indians. In the past, I’ve made the mistake of recommending Thanksgiving books with insensitive stereotypes. I’m grateful for my experience as a children’s librarian and now as a homeschooling parent, roles that have enlightened my previous ignorance. As we grow to be a more accepting and consciously aware society, it’s important to challenge our own perspectives about Thanksgiving and critically look at books we use to teach our children about this American holiday.
That said, here are a few suggestions for how to mindfully read books about Thanksgiving with kids.
Learn About and Teach American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving
Read about the American Indian perspectives on Thanksgiving, what really happened at the First Thanksgiving, and common myths. If you’re a teacher, parent, or caregiver, learn about how you can talk about this holiday with children.
Read Thanksgiving Books With a Critical Eye
Watch this video of Native Americans reviewing Thanksgiving books. Note the problematic depictions and stereotypes they point out:
Looking for accurate books about the First Thanksgiving? Please checkout Debbie Reese’s blog posts Looking for Books About Thanksgiving? and Good Books About Thanksgiving. Also, check out Oyate’s Recommended Books about Thansgiving and books to avoid. I refer to the American Indians in Children’s Literature website anytime I question a book and how it depicts American Indians. It’s a valuable resource and I highly recommend utilizing it if you have any questions or are unsure about a specific children’s book.
Read Books Written By and/or Featuring American Indians Year-Round
Make it a point to read books that highlight American Indian characters and/or stories throughout the year, not just in November. Yes, Thanksgiving is in November and Native American Heritage Month is celebrated in November, but don’t let that limit you to only reading books about American Indians during that month. Read books with American Indian characters, books about American Indian history, and actively choose books written by American Indians throughout the entire year. Check out this reading list, and this list, and this list for suggestions.
In our home, we choose to focus on celebrating respect and gratitude for the earth, the provider of the food we eat and the water we drink, as well as celebrating loved ones in our lives. We don’t ignore the origins, we discuss it in a way that is appropriate for them to understand, but the traditional story isn’t a part of the how we acknowledge the holiday. There are several wonderfully written books about Thanksgiving that don’t include references to the first Thanksgiving and also books with a general theme of gratitude that would be excellent read-alouds to enjoy this holiday– Here’s a booklist of my favorite children’s books about thanks & giving.