I read 18 books. Eleven of them had no references in text or illustration to American Indians. They were stories primarily about families getting together for Thanksgiving; many were about what the family members are thankful for.
Seven of the 18 books included content (text or illustrations) about American Indians. They include:
- Thanksgiving Mice, by Bethany Roberts
- Thanksgiving Day, by Anne Rockwell (there were six copies of this one on the shelf)
- Look Who's in the Thanksgiving Play!: A Lift-the-Flap Story, by Andrew Clements
- The Memory Cupboard, by Charlotte Herman
- The Thanksgiving Door, by Debby Atwell
- Fat Chance Thanksgiving, by Stacey Schuett
- This First Thanksgiving Day: A Counting Story, by Laura Krauss Melmed
Perhaps the most striking observation is that 3 of the 7 books were about doing a Thanksgiving play. It points to, I think, the degree to which that practice is central to the Thanksgiving lesson plans that teachers do in early childhood and elementary school classrooms. In a series of posts this month, I'll discuss the books I read. I begin with...
Thanksgiving Mice, by Bethany Roberts
The characters are mice. In the first four pages, they prepare the props. The next scene is one of other critters coming in to see the play. The stage has an easel announcing the play: "The Story of Thanksgiving."
The play begins, and we see "Act 1" which is an English street scene. A male and female mouse head for the dock to board their ship. They male is shown in a black hat with a buckle, signifying Pilgrim. The next few pages show the mice being seasick, hungry, thirsty. They arrive at Plymouth Rock, build new homes, but are still hungry and weak. Spring comes, and Act 2 begins. The text reads:
One day they met some friendly folks, who gave them corn to sow.
The "friendly folks" are represented on the page as a mouse wearing a fringed shirt, trousers, blue beads, and a feather hanging down from beneath his ear (no headband). He has a bowl of corn kernals and offers one to the female mouse. On the next double-page spread is a four-panel illustration, done that way to show the progression of time. In the first panel the Indian watches/directs the Pilgrim man as he plans the kernel of corn. The Indian is not in the next three panels, or on the next two pages, where the mice are shown in the midst of their abundant harvest of corn, squash, and pumpkins. On the next page the text reads:
And so they said to their new friends, "Let's feast! Let's dance! "Let's play!"
The Pilgrim female and the Indian male dance together. The next page shows the players bowing before their cheering audience. The closing page shows the mice, a squirrel, a bird, and two worms, and the text reads:
Come one, come all, come feast with us---on this Thanksgiving Day!"
Thanksgiving Mice was published in 2001 by Clarion. It's illustrations are by Doug Cushman. The reviewer in The Horn Book Guide gave it a '5' which means "Marginal, seriously flawed, but with some redeeming quality." Booklist's reviewer suggests it can be used as a "light introduction to the holiday."
I'm not sure what the "redeeming quality" is, and I don't think it should be used to introduce children to this holiday. What purpose does it serve to teach young children this romantic story that is little more than myth? All this feel-good stuff is junk that only has to be unlearned later on. And, as I've said before on this blog, the college students I teach feel betrayed by these feel-good lessons. Perhaps James Loewen's book title captures it best. This simplified story about Thanksgiving is among the "Lies My Teacher Told Me."
Some people ask me if I'd prefer to have nothing at all said. My reply? I'd prefer nothing. To me, it is akin to "first do no harm." I much prefer those books that leave out Native imagery completely, as is the case with the Franklin books. (Franklin the turtle, that is!)
Children must be provided with honest instruction about the history of this country.