Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Not Recommended: HOW TO CELEBRATE THANKSGIVING! by P. K. Hallinan

Back in August of 2019, Elisa Gall tweeted the cover of How to Celebrate Thanksgiving: Holiday Traditions, Rituals, and Rules in a Delightful Story by P.K. Hallinan. It is due out on November 5 from Sky Pony publishing.

A conversation about the book also took place on Facebook, where someone noted that the book was first published in 1992 as Today Is Thanksgiving. I looked around and sure enough... the covers are the same. New title, but the same illustration:

Cover of "How to Celebrate Thanksgiving" due out in Oct of 2019, and cover of "Today is Thanksgiving" published in 1993. The covers are identical.

The 1993 edition is available at the Internet Archive. I'll paste some images below. If you have the 2019 edition, do you see these images inside? The subtitle for the 2019 edition is "Holiday Traditions, Rituals, and Rules" and its "How To Celebrate" suggests it is a how-to book. The description of the new one sounds exactly like what I see in the old edition:
Parents and children alike will delight in this cheery book about Thanksgiving Day. From baking an apple pie to playing football on a crisp autumn morning to gathering around the table with friends and family, this adorable picture book depicts some of America’s most treasured family traditions.
The lively rhyming text and bright illustrations will not only delight and entertain your kids, but will also instruct. Hallinan gently encourages children to help with the preparation of the holiday meal, to spend time with family, and also to be grateful for the many blessings that they have been given.

The story opens on Thanksgiving day with two children thinking about Pilgrims and Indians. Though I am careful to say that Native people can have fair hair and skin, I am pretty sure that these two kids are White.

Downstairs, their parents are cooking. The two children are shown going downstairs "descending on old Plymouth Rock." One has a comb tucked inside a headband. You can see it better when he sits down at the table to help his parents make pie:

Then, they go watch TV. That kid is still wearing the comb:

When the parade is over, the two kids get dressed and go outside to play football with their friends. The comb is gone. But, look closely at the eyes of the child in the red sweater. Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen has done presentations on the way that the eyes of Asian children are drawn in children's books. At her site, she's got the Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Children's Books for Racism and Sexism guide published years ago by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. Item #1 names slant-eyed "Oriental" as a stereotype.

Is that child shown that way in the 2019 edition?

The rest of the book is about the kids playing football and then going back inside to greet cousins. Then, they eat and play games that evening. The final page is reflections on the day.

The questions are for the editor and publisher. If the 2019 edition is identical to the 1993 edition, why is it being republished, as is, without any revisions to its anti-Native and racist Asian illustrations and ideology?


  1. For the life of me I cannot understand our (white people's) attachment to this origin myth for Thanksgiving. It doesn't make any historical sense. There wasn't a consistent, national Thanksgiving holiday until after the Civil War, so pegging its origin to this one particular harvest festival a good 2-and-a-half centuries earlier and in the wrong month is a real stretch even before you get to the whitewashing of the event itself. Harvest festivals and days of thanksgiving of one sort or another are common across many cultures. We could just have one without all the 19th-century origin-story nonsense (but not if abjectly terrible picture books like this keep getting recycled).

  2. Oh, I can understand why. Its a story that erases the violent seizure of Native land and subsequent genocide committed (and ongoing) to create the United States and replaces it with one that takes place far in the past (so it situations Native people safely distant) and highlights good fellowship. The attachment is not in spite of of the racist nonsense, but because of it.


  3. Yes, very fair point. I get why the story of the 1621 event is all mangled and whitewashed, and why if we were picking an origin story we'd pick/create one that makes us look totally innocent and benevolent. I hate it, but I understand. I think it's the need to peg the holiday to a particular event at all that I find confusing. Lincoln didn't talk about any sort of commemoration of 1621 in his declarations of a national day of thanksgiving (he also exhorted his fellow citizens to "humble themselves in the dust" in the second one, but that's a whole other thing). There's a German semi-equivalent called Erntedankfest, and nobody goes around telling stories of "the first Erntedankfest." It's just a harvest festival. To the colonists at Plymouth, the feast in October 1621 was just a harvest festival similar to what they'd been celebrating in Leiden, not "The First" anything. It's just odd to me that we have to have some singular, instigating event, instead of just...harvest festivals are a common human thing, and we consolidated a bunch of regional/local versions of such into one holiday.

  4. I am glad I did not read this book [How to celebrate Thanksgiving] as a child or a teenager.

    Erika: thank you for sharing Erntedankfest.

    Lots of harvest festivals in Europe.

    And good point about the consolidation of local and regional festivals.

    Thanksgiving in and on the Civil War seems to make more sense.

    And yet, Native Americans had been around since ... forever? The land bridge?

    Good fellowship is harder to swallow with racist nonsense like cranberry juice and stuffing.

    The way I learnt about Plymouth and its place in the US was through Helen Keller and her journey there in 1887? 1888? [20 years after the Civil War].

  5. I saw a recent YouTube video that in an offhand comment summarized Thanksgiving best, I think: "You can see Thanksgiving as a way for Christians to thank God for all they've received that year, or as a celebration of the fairy tale that our country's history isn't founded in the bloodlust of genocidal rage."

    Thanksgiving's fairy tale is propaganda that exists because of how the USA was created, because people generally prefer to see themselves as good especially if they for some reason feel they might not somehow be good, and because it benefits the state and capitalist interests if people view Thanksgiving as a holiday of Good Memories with a specific Good Story since reminders of the grim and pretty much solidly evil history settlers have would seriously result in a downturn of rampant consumerism that fuels the national GDP and company bottom lines (and so close to the close of the fourth quarter of the financial year, too! Can't let that happen).

    Ava Jarvis, retired reviewer with some amount of gallows humor snark



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