Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Good Books about Thanksgiving

I've had a lot of email of late... People want me to recommend good books about Thanksgiving.

There's only a handful of ones that I'd recommend. Actually---I concur with those recommended by Oyate, and I'll list them below.

Here's the thing. I want teachers, parents, and librarians to consider that a lot of American Indians don't necessarily "celebrate" Thanksgiving as it is celebrated in the mainstream American holiday scheme.

Many of us get together----it IS a major holiday, with almost all offices shut down and stores closing early, etc.----and many of us eat turkey, but there are no Pilgrim and Indian salt shakers on my table...

Think about it this way. Just for a moment. Europeans invaded the homelands of Native peoples and their nations all over the Americas. There were wars. Death. Incarceration. Brutal programs designed to "kill the Indian and save the man." Native peoples and our cultures were attacked. But we persevered, and many of us we have a different view of this holiday. A lot of people tell us "get over it" and the like.


That's like asking the bully and his/her victim to hug without recognizing the harm and the hurt, without having honest conversations with the bully about his actions. I'm a bit reluctant to put forth these analogies, because I don't view myself or Native peoples as victims.

What I'm getting at, in part, is that I don't want to be a player in your story. I don't want to be on your stage. I want you to see me and Pueblo people (in my case) as a people that existed and exists on its own merits---not as minor characters, or colorful ones, in the story that America tells about America.

You want to know about Native people? Do you really want to know about us? Or do you just need/want us so you can 'do your thing' (celebrate Thanksgiving)? You want me to tell you what I do for Thanksgiving. I understand that, but I think it more important that you ask about (in my case) the Pueblo people. Who are we? Where are we? What are OUR celebrations? When are they? What are they about?

And... instead of asking a Native person what they're doing for Thanksgiving, how about asking yourself about what you are doing, and why.

That said, here's some books Oyate recommends. The list is from their page about Thanksgiving. I highly recommend you read it.

Recommended Books about Thanksgiving

Bruchac, Margaret M. (Abenaki), and Catherine Grace O’Neill, 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2001, grades 4-up Update on Sep 30 2023: I (Debbie Reese) no longer recommend Bruchac's work. For details see Is Joseph Bruchac truly Abenaki?

Hunter, Sally M. (Ojibwe), Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1997, grades 4-6.

Peters, Russell M. (Wampanoag), Clambake: A Wampanoag Tradition. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1992, grades 4-6.

Regguinti, Gordon (Ojibwe), The Sacred Harvest: Ojibway Wild Rice Gathering. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1992, grades 4-6.

Seale, Doris (Santee/Cree), Beverly Slapin, and Carolyn Silverman (Cherokee), eds., Thanksgiving: A Native Perspective. Berkeley: Oyate, 1998, teacher resource.

Swamp, Jake (Mohawk), Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message. New York: Lee & Low, 1995, all grades.

Wittstock, Laura Waterman (Seneca), Ininatig’s Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugarmaking. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1993, grades 4-6


  1. Great post. I think you're making perfect sense. (I've linked to this post on my blog).

  2. As a family we have always concentrated more on the Thanks/Gratefulness part of Thanksgiving than on the whole Pilgrim and Indian meal part. As most people have learned that the stories we were told as children were not at all the reality we have abadoned that part of the meal to some degree. I do wonder, each year how I can tell my children, at a level appropriate to them, about life in those times. I think that is where requests for books on Thanksgiving might come from.

  3. As a Navajo teacher I need to remind everyone that we, as tribes are as different from each other as Germans are from Irish. I am from a Nomadic tribe with taboos on snakes, owls and certain animals. So recommanding a literature book that encompass' all Native Americans is like asking Western Europeans to find a book that describes them all. So ask each tribe what they recommend. Find the closet tribe and visit their museums, offices and websites they are more willing to share their stories with your children. Teach them respect of another culture.

  4. I love reading books ever since I was a little kid. Now that I am a father myself, I encourage my kids to read good books. There are a lot of good books to read like the Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter or those which are written by Stephen King.

  5. thanks for this list! My library had several and I just put them on hold.

  6. As a new librarian getting ready to go into a school, I suspect many of us who want to get teachers to change their lesson plans know we'll have more luck handing them alternative books than telling them to stop teaching Thanksgiving altogether. The lesson-plan ideas shared here and in other resources are helpful, but given the reality -- in non-Native classrooms, teachers ARE going to teach Thanksgiving -- it would be nice if publishers had books that told the 1621 story in culturally accurate and appropriate ways.

    Writing and publishing those books is not really the responsibility of Native writers and presses, but I imagine that some of us non-Native people ask here because we figure, if anyone knows the good/best books, it's you.

  7. Hello,

    Do you have any book recommendations for kindergarten-3rd grade? Trying to teach accurate history :)

    Thank you!



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