Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Thanksgiving. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Thanksgiving. Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Oyate's List of Thanksgiving Books to Avoid

A few years ago, Oyate had a list of books about Thanksgiving that they did not recommend. The list was on their website.

Given the number of books that are published every year about that holiday and the ways that Native peoples continue to be misrepresented in children's books, you would be right to guess that their list is long.

That list is not at their website any longer. In a redesign a few years ago they decided to remove it and their Books to Avoid section. They decided that, although a list might seem efficient, it didn't give people the critical thinking skills they need to develop in order to make decisions on their own. I agree--I'd prefer people develop those skills and apply them their selection/deselection activities.

On the other hand, teachers use lists of good books all the time. Generally speaking, they assume that the person who put that list together has the expertise necessary such that their evaluations can be trusted.

I personally have not read all of these books, but I definitely learned a great deal from Oyate's work. I strongly encourage teachers and librarians to get materials published by Oyate.

My guess is that I'd concur with their decision about each of these books, and I'd also guess that any given book on the list got there because it put forth one or more of what Judy Dow and Beverly Slapin called myths in their Deconstructing the Myths of the First Thanksgiving. If one of these books is on your shelf and you're considering weeding it, I recommend you read it and Dow and Slapin's essay and then make a decision.

I've also shared Oyate's list of recommended books here. And, for more books that accurately portray Native people, see my page of Best Books. (Note: the first sentence of his paragraph was not visible enough. Two people submitted comments asking for recommended books. To help it be more visible, I made it a separate paragraph in bold and added the sentence/link to best books to supplement Oyate's list.)

Dow and Slapin's piece on Thanksgiving myths is also in the outstanding resource A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children (published in 2005), as are many (all?) of the in-depth critical reviews that were on Oyate's page of Books to Avoid. Get A Broken Flute, and Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children (published in 1987 and again in 2006), too. Both are vitally important for all that they contain. (Note: I added this paragraph soon after hitting the upload button on this post, and I added Slapin's name as a co-author. My apologies to her for the initial omission.)

Own your knowledge. Own your decisions.

Oyate's list of NOT RECOMMENDED books about Thanksgiving

Accorsi, William. Friendship's First Thanksgiving. Holiday House, 1992.

Aliki. Corn is Maize: The Gift of the Indians. Harper & Row, 1976.

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving. Simon & Schuster, 2002.

Ansary, Mir Tamim. Thanksgiving Day. Heinemann, 2002.

Apel, Melanie Ann. The Pilgrims. Kidhaven Press, 2003.

Bartlett, Robert Merrill, The Story of Thanksgiving. HarperCollins, 2001.

Barth, Edna. Turkeys, Pilgrims, and Indian Corn: The Story of Thanksgiving Symbols. Clarion, 1975.

Borden, Louise. Thanksgiving Is... Scholastic, 1997.

Brown, Marc. Arthur's Thanksgiving. Little, Brown. 1983.

Bruchac, Joseph. Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving. Harcourt, 2000.

Buckley, Susan Washburn. Famous Americans: 15 Easy to Read Biography Mini-Books. Scholastic, 2000.

Bulla, Clyde Robert. Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims. Scholastic, 1990.

Celsi, Teresa. Squanto and the First Thanksgiving. Steck-Vaughn, 1989.

Clements, Andrew. Look Who's in the Thanksgiving Play! Simon & Shuster, 1999.

Cohen, Barbara. Molly's Pilgrim. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1983.

Conaway, Judith. Happy Thanksgiving! Things to Make and Do. Troll Communications, 1986.

Crane, Carol and Helle Urban. P is for Pilgrim: A Thanksgiving Alphabet. Sleeping Bear Press, 2003.

Dalgliesh, Alice. The Thanksgiving Story. Scholastic, 1954/1982.

Daugherty, James. The Landing of the Pilgrims. Random House, 1987.

Davis, Kenneth C. Don't Know Much About the Pilgrims. HarperCollins, 2002.

DePaola, Tomie. My First Thanksgiving. Putnam, 1992.

Donnelly, Judy. The Pilgrims and Me. Grosset & Dunlap, 2002.

Dubowski, Cathy East. The Story of Squanto, First Friend to the Pilgrims. Dell, 1990.

Fink, Deborah. It's a Family Thanksgiving! A Celebration of an American Tradition for Children and their Families. Harmony Hearth, 2000.

Flindt, Myron. Pilgrims: A Simulation of the First Year at Plymouth Colony. Interact, 1994.

Fritz, Jean. Who's That Stepping on Plymouth Rock? Putnam & Grossett, 1975.

George, Jean Craighead. The First Thanksgiving. Puffin. 1993.

Gibbons, Gail. Thanksgiving Day. Holiday House, 1985.

Gibbons, Gail. Thanksgiving Is... Holiday House, 2004.

Greene, Rhonda Gowler. The Very First Thanksgiving Day. Atheneum, 2002.

Hale, Anna W. The Mayflower People: Triumphs and Tragedies. Harbinger House, 1995.

Hallinan, P. K. Today is Thanksgiving! Ideals Children's Books, 1993.

Harness, Cheryl. Three Young Pilgrims. Aladdin, 1995.

Hayward, Linda. The First Thanksgiving. Random House, 1990.

Hennessy, B. G. One Little, Two Little, Three Little Pilgrims. Viking, 1999.

Jackson, Garnet. The First Thanksgiving. Scholastic, 2000.

Jassem, Kate. Squanto: The Pilgrim Adventure. Troll Communications. 1979.

Kamma, Anne. If You Were At... The First Thanksgiving. Scholastic, 2001.

Kessel, Joyce K. Squanto and the First Thanksgiving. Carolrhoda, 1983.

Kinnealy, Janice. Let's Celebratae Thanksgiving, A Book of Drawing Fun. Watermill, 1988.

Koller, Jackie French. Nickommoh! A Thanksgiving Celebration. Atheneum, 1999.

Marx, David F. Thanksgiving. Children's Press, 2000.

McGovern, Ann. The Pilgrims' First Thanksgiving. Scholastic, 1973.

McMullan, Kate. Fluffy's Thanksgiving. Scholastic, 1997.

Melmed, Laura Krauss. The First Thanksgiving Day: A Counting Story. HarperCollins, 2001.

Metaxas, Eric. Squanto and the First Thanksgiving. Rabbit Ears Books, 1996.

Moncure, Jane Belk. Word Bird's Thanksgiving Words. Child's World, 2002.

Ochoa, Anna. Sticker Stories: The Thanksgiving Play. Grosset & Dunlap, 2002.

Osborne, Mary Pope. Thanksgiving on Thursday. Random House, 2002.

Parker, Margot. What is Thanksgiving Day? Children's Press, 1988.

Peacock, Carol Antoinette. Pilgrim Cat. Whitman, 2004.

Prelutsky, Jack. It's Thanksgiving. Morrow, 1982.

Rader, Laura J. A Child's Story of Thanksgiving. Ideals Children's Books, 1998

Randall, Ronnie. Thanksgiving Fun: Great Things to Make and Do. Kingfisher, 1994.

Raphael, Elaine and Don Bolognese. The Story of the First Thanksgiving. Scholastic, 1991.

Rau, Dana Meachen. Thanksgiving. Children's Press, 2000.

Roberts, Bethany. Thanksgiving Mice! Clarion, 2001.

Rockwell, Anne. Thanksgiving Day. HarperCollins, 1999.

Rogers, Lou. The First Thanksgiving. Modern Curriculum Press. 1962.

Roloff, Nan. The First American Thanksgiving. Current. 1980.

Roop, Connie and Peter. Let's Celebrate Thanksgiving. Millbrook, 1999.

Roop, Connie and Peter. Pilgrim Voices: Our First Year in the New World. Walker, 1995.

Ross, Katherine. Crafts for Thanksgiving. Millbrook, 1995.

Ross, Katherine. The Story of the Pilgrims. Random House, 1995.

Ruelle, Karen Gray. The Thanksgiving Beast Feast. Holiday House, 1999.

San Souci, Robert. N.C. Wyeth's Pilgrims. Chronicle, 1991.

Scarry, Richard. Richard Scarry's The First Thanksgiving of Low Leaf Worm. Little Simon, 2003.

Schultz, Charles M. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Simon & Schuster, 2002.

Sewall, Marcia. People of the Breaking Day. Atheneum, 1990.

Sewall, Marica. The People of Plimoth. Aladdin, 1986.

Sewall, Marcia. Thunder from the Clear Sky. Atheneum, 1995.

Siegel, Beatrice. Fur Traders and Traders: The Indians, the Pilgrims, and the Beaver. Walker, 1981.

Siegel, Beatrice, Indians of the Northeast Woodlands. Walker, 1992.

Silver, Donald M. and Patricia J. Wynne. Easy Make and Learn Projects: The Pilgrims, the Mayflower & More. Scholastic, 2001.

Skarmeas, Nancy J. The Story of Thanksgiving. Ideals Publications, 1999.

Sorenson, Lynda. Holidays: Thanksgiving. Rourke, 1994.

Stamper, Judith Bauer. New Friends in a New Land: A Thanksgiving Story. Steck-Vaughn, 1993.

Stamper, Judith Bauer. Thanksgiving Fun Activity Book. Troll, 1993.

Stanley, Diane. Thanksgiving on Plymouth Plantation. HarperCollins, 2004.

Steigemeyer, Julie. Thanksgiving: A Harvest Celebration. Concordia, 2003.

Tryon, Leslie. Albert's Thanksgiving. Aladdin, 19983.

Umnik, Sharon Dunn (Ed.). 175 Easy-to-Do Thanksgiving Crafts. Boyds Mills Press, 1996.

Waters, Kate. Giving Thanks: The 1621 Harvest Feast. Scholastic, 2001.

Waters, Kate. Samuel Eaton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy. Scholastic, 1993.

Waters, Kate. Sarah Morton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl. Scholastic, 1989.

Waters, Kate. Tapenum's Day: A Wampanoag Boy in Pilgrim Times. 1996.

Weisgard, Leonard. The Plymouth Thanksgiving. Doubleday, 1967.

Whitehead, Pat. Best Thanksgiving Book, ABC Adventures. Troll Communications, 1985.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Thanksgiving Picture Books: THANKSGIVING MICE

Earlier this week I visited a local public library to take a look at their picture books with the word "Thanksgiving" in the title. I did not look at non-fiction or poetry, and I looked only at books published from 1999 to 2007 that were on the "easy" shelf. I also excluded books on the easy-to-read shelf and obviously could not read those that were checked out at the time.

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 (example: Franklin's Thanksgiving by Paulette Bourgeosis); 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

As the title suggests, the characters are mice. In the first four pages, they prepare the props for their play. Next, other critters are shown 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. Here's the illustration:

The text reads:
One day they met some friendly folks, who gave them corn to sow.
The "friendly folks" are represented on that 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 kernels and offers one to the female Pilgrim 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 mice actors 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 as a light 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 about Native peoples. My reply? I'd prefer nothing if the 'something' is error, bias, etc. To me, this is akin to "first do no harm." I much prefer books that leave out Native imagery completely, as is the case with Franklin's Thanksgiving.

Children must be provided with honest instruction about the history of this country. Books like this can be used to teach children about bias and perspective.

Update: July 17, 2014

In comments, Allie Jane Bruce notes that Thanksgiving Mice is available now as a "Green Light Reader." To the right is the new cover, showing it as a "Level 1" reader.  Published by Harcourt, the "Green Light" series is:

  • "Created exclusively for beginning readers..." 
  • "Reinforces reading skills..."
  • "Encourages children to read..."
  • "Offers extra enrichment through fun, age-appropriate activities unique to each story."
  • "Developed with Harcourt School Publishers and credentialed educational consultants."

I'd re-write those bullet points! This particular book, we might say, was

"created exclusively to mislead beginning readers"
"reinforces ignorance"
"encourages ignorance"
"offers kids the opportunity to learn how to play Indian in offensive ways"

AND---I wonder about the credentials of those educational consultants!

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Looking for Children's Books about Thanksgiving? (Part 1)

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(Editor's Note, November 8, 2013: I've been casting about trying to find words to explain what is wrong with the idea that the Pilgrims and Wampanoag's sat down together and had a wonderful meal together. Below, I note that things that happened before that meal are usually missing from the way the event is portrayed in children's books. But I think Jill Lepore's words get at what I find troubling about the "wonderful meal" idea. In the 'After the Mayflower" episode of the PBS documentary "We Shall Remain," Lepore says that everyone there was very nervous. The Pilgrims, the documentary says, were especially wary of close contact with the Wampanoag people. That anxiety, I think, makes the depictions of a meal characterized by warmth and happiness disingenuous.)     

Are you looking for children's books about Thanksgiving?!! The exclamation points convey my frustration with the insistence that this holiday be one in which people want Thanksgiving to be about Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to eat a meal together--nevermind what happened to Native people before or after that! Did you know, for instance, that Tisquantum--more commonly known as Squanto--could speak English because he'd been kidnapped by a prior expedition and sold into slavery in Europe? And did you know that before the Mayflower arrived, the Wampanaog people had been devastated by disease from earlier European visitors?

If you've written to me or to other Native critics, educators, or librarians, to ask for children's books about Thanksgiving, it is likely because you want to give the children in your care or in your classroom something better than the standard Pilgrim/Indian story where everyone sits down to a lovely dinner.

Prompted by readers of AICL, I took some time today to head over to the local B&N and see what kind of books about Thanksgiving they might have on display.

Here's the shelf (sorry---photographs in this post are of low quality):

There are four rows of books on the display. Here's some photos and observations of them, starting from top left:

What is Thanksgiving? by Michelle Medlock Adams, illustrated by Amy Wummer. Published in 2009 by Candy Cane Press, here's the synopsis (from Amazon):
Following the success of What Is Christmas? and What Is Easter?, Michelle Adams brings the same humor and warmth to this little Thanksgiving board book. Through the whimsical art and rhyming verse that's fun to read, even the youngest child will come to understand that Thanksgiving is really about showing gratitude for all the blessings in our lives. 
Adams and Wummer steer clear of any attempt to show Indians as part of their book. Their collaboration has Pilgrims, but no Indians:

I don't know about that... Doesn't seem right to just omit Native people, but I don't want the stereotypes OR the feel-good story, either. Sometimes I think that Thanksgiving books for young children should just focus on things people are grateful for. What is Thanksgiving? tries to do that, but having Pilgrims (and a turkey) but no Wampanaog people just doesn't seem right. 

Five Silly Turkeys does not have Pilgrims or Indians in it. 

Happy Thanksgiving Day by Jill Roman Lord is a 'touch and feel' book (for those of you who don't know what they are, touch-and-feel books have textures embedded in each page that young children can touch, thereby having a multi-sensory experience). Published in 2013 by Ideals Pub, this page shows the little boy's artwork taped to his wall. See? Pilgrims, but no Indians (the bear's belly has a swatch of fabric for a child to feel).

Happy Thanksgiving, Curious George by Cynthia Bartynski and Julie M. Young, illustrated by Mary O'Keefe was published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It is also a board book. For most of it, George is shown in a Pilgrim hat. No Indians or feathers, anywhere, till one of the last pages:

See the Indian figurines in the left margin? They're also on the table. Those things on the back of everyone's chair are turkey feather decorations that George made.

Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving by Kimberly and James Dean was published in 2013 by HarperFestival. Here's the synopsis from Amazon:
Starring in the school Thanksgiving play would make even the coolest cat nervous. But when Pete the Cat gets onstage, he makes learning the story of the first Thanksgiving fun. With thirteen flaps that open to reveal hidden surprises, this book is sure to be a holiday favorite for every Pete the Cat fan.
Though Amazon lists it (today) as their #1 children's book about Thanksgiving, the reader reviews pan it. One person said it is "superficial" but most others don't like it because it is missing the qualities of the other Pete the Cat books. Here's what I find problematic:

That character is supposed to be Squanto. Here's what the text says: "The Pilgrims had heard about the Native Americans, and they worried that they would not be friendly. Pete had never met a cat he didn't like, so he thought they would be kind."  Here's another page:

Moving along!

Happy Thanksgiving, Biscuit! by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, illustrated by Pat Schories, came out in 1999. Like Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving, it is from HarperFestival. I like the Biscuit books. He is so cute! In this lift-the-flap book, there are no Indians or Wampanoags. There are, however, Pilgrim dolls. 

See the man propped up against the bench that has Biscuit's food dish? The woman is face down by Biscuit's hind feet. 

The Night Before Thanksgiving is about a family getting ready for Thanksgiving. No pilgrims or Indians, either. Dare I say it? "Thankfully!" Some people really object to my being snarky. Ah well.

One Little, Two Little, Three Little Pilgrims by B. G. Hennessey, illustrated by Lynne Avril Cravath is pretty awful, in my mind. Just the idea of using that song makes me cringe! I did a bit of poking around and found a video of kids singing it, wearing Pilgrim hats and bonnets, and feathered headbands. But instead of saying Wampanoag, they sang "Native Americans." Why, I wonder? In the book, the two groups (Pilgrims/Wampanoags) are shown working (cooking, fishing, etc.) to get ready for their shared meal. Looking at the illustrations, I wonder why the Wampanoag's all have a dash of facepaint on their cheeks? In every illustration? Why? (Update, Nov 8: A reader noted that the Pilgrims also have that same dash of facepaint, suggesting it has something to do with the author's style of illustration. Good point!) Here's the cover:
Next up? Nate the Great Talks Turkey. Written by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and Mitchelle Sharmat, the illustrations are by Jody Wheeler. Unlike the ones above, this is not a picture book. And, it isn't about Thanksgiving. Published in 2013 by Delacourt Books for Young Readers, it is about a turkey on the loose. There is, however, a gesture to Thanksgiving early on:

I don't know what happens later in the book. Maybe they're going to catch it, but I kind of doubt they'd kill and eat it. The last book on the second shelf is The Pilgrims First Thanksgiving by Ann McGovern. Illustrated by Elroy Freem, it was published in 1993 by Scholastic. Partway through the book, we're introduced to Squanto! On the page just before this one, the text tells us that the Pilgrims made a good friend who helped them, and that his name was Squanto.  

I wonder what children today learn about Squanto? Given that November is Native American Month, it is depressing to see how Native peoples are depicted (or not) in these books. I'm going to stop here and leave the last two shelves and another book that was on the backside of the display, for another day...  Your comments (and pointers to my typos) are welcome! 

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Search terms

Nothing substantive today, just offering you a glimpse of search terms by which people found the blog as of 11:30 today. The software that generates the list doesn't use upper case letters.

  1. creation story myths children's literature
  2. touching spirit bear by ben mikaelsen
  3. native blogs
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  5. thanksgiving indian plays
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  7. thanksgiving truth for kids
  8. thanksgiving offensive?
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  12. thanksgiving and indians
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Friday, November 25, 2022


Back in October of 2020, I wrote about Dino-Thanksgiving by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Barry Gott. It is about dinosaurs gathering to eat at thanksgiving. At one point they gather around the television to watch the "Redscales" game. Players wear uniforms the same colors as the NFL Team now known as the Washington Commanders. 

People at the publishing house saw my post and replied to say they would be making edits to reprints. 

A few days ago, Carol Hinz, Associate Publisher of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books (imprints within Lerner Publishing) wrote about the edits on Lerner's blog. They changed the name of the team name to Rippers. The uniforms they wear are now different, too. Below on left is my screen capture of the first edition. I added the arrows to draw attention to the team name and uniform colors. On right is a sample of the edits Hinz wrote about.  

Those changes, I think, indicate progress. Lots of people at Lerner were involved in the changes. Each one of them now know something they might not have known, before. 

I'm writing this post on Friday, November 25--the day after the 2022 observance of thanksgiving. Some Native families gather on that day to visit and eat, but many do not. Many choose to mark the day as a National Day of Mourning and have been doing so, since 1970, in Plymouth Massachusetts. 

I'm glad to see that change to the mascot name in the series. 

This particular thanksgiving book doesn't repeat the the popular--and wrong--story of Pilgrims and Indians feasting together that hides the facts of imperialism and genocide. That story is one of the many U.S. myths that hurts everyone--Native and not--because it looks away from the horrific things one people can do to another. 

I think there was a time in my life when I thought that the best option was to mark the day as one of gratitude without the Pilgrim and Indian story but in a way, that's like sports teams getting rid of mascots but keeping the team name. It doesn't work. Opposing teams will use those team names to taunt the fans whose team holds that name. Without a massive educational effort to help others see why the mascot is not ok, it lives on in peoples hearts and too often--in their actions.  I've seen that firsthand at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign. The mascot itself is gone but the team name is unchanged and fans of the now-absent mascot continue wearing apparel that is easy to get. Worse is that fans of mascots will go on to work in positions where their actions--like doing reenactments of "the first thanksgiving"--will misinform children. 

All of this is part of a cycle that must be interrupted! There are a few new picture books that seek to interrupt the Pilgrim and Indians thanksgiving story. I've not studied them yet. 

One is If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving by Chris Newell (citizen of the Passamaquoddy Tribe) and illustrated by Winona Nelson (Leech Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa). Dennis Zotigh at the National Museum of the American Indian has an article about it at Smithsonian Magazine: 'If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving' by Chris Newell Exposes New Truths about the American Holiday. 

Another is Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun's Thanksgiving Story written by Danielle Greendeer (Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Citizen), Alexis Bunten (Unangan/Yup'ik), Anthony Perry (Chickasaw), and illustrated by Garry Meeches, Sr. (Anishinaabe). In my quick look at this book, I see a lot I like. I groaned at the back matter for the inclusion of a map by a mapmaker whose methods received criticism from many who observed that he misrepresented their nations and people on his maps. For more information about that, I did a couple of posts here at AICL

A few years ago, We Are Grateful/Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell (Cherokee) came out. I like what she did in her book and highly recommended it. Much older is Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp (Mohawk). These two don't take the pilgrims as their starting point. 

Before social media took off, people would submit comments to AICL's posts but that dropped significantly as people chose to respond to AICL's posts on Twitter. Media analysts say that Twitter is on its last legs. Your contributions to conversations are likely going to be lost. If you're leaving Twitter, we invite you to submit your comments here. I'm really interested in your observations about thanksgiving and thanksgiving books. 

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Guest post: Kara Stewart, "Children's Books about Thanksgiving"

I am a teacher. I am also Native American (Sappony). I’m very lucky that my principal and lead teacher are supportive of me in that they are quite willing to listen to my views on teaching to and about Native Americans and act accordingly.

Recently, many colorful, attractive-looking books were put on display in our elementary school’s teacher resource room, available for check out to teachers as great books to read aloud during November. Many of them had the usual Thanksgiving scenes and theme on the cover.

Upon reading several of them, I began to feel uncomfortable. I had a feeling that several of them would be on Oyate’s “Books to Avoid about Thanksgiving” list. Sure enough, they were. But I felt I needed to give more solid reasons for removing them from the resource room than “they are on Oyate’s Books to Avoid about Thanksgiving list” and “the Indian teacher in the school is offended by them”. Often, it is difficult to articulate feelings of discomfort or offense, and present them in a way that others will understand, and also tell why those feelings have surfaced. I needed some help – something to give me more specifics, “hard data” almost, or other opinions to think about, especially the opinions of those that have critiqued many books like this.

So I did some digging. Oyate also has a section on their site called “Books to Avoid”, which you can find from the home page (left side bar, last choice). But none of the ones I wanted were listed (there are in-depth reviews of very common books, such as The Indian in the Cupboard, The Courage of Sarah Noble, Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, Little House on the Prairie, The Sign of the Beaver and more).

Also on the Oyate site, again under “Resources,” there is a link to Deconstructing the Myths of “The First Thanksgiving” (see the Longer Version) by Judy Dow and Beverly Slapin. I found this document very helpful and enlightening. I read it carefully to get a sense of what is a myth about Thanksgiving, and what is more historically accurate. As it turns out, much of what we accept and were taught about “The First Thanksgiving” simply is not historically supportable. Much of it simply is not true.

The Deconstructing article, in addition to giving the more likely historical facts and the reasons for them, also provides quite a few quotes from books on the “Books to Avoid about Thanksgiving” list as specific examples of part of the reason why those books are not recommended. Most of the books that were put out in our teacher resource room fell under this category – historically inaccurate - in addition to having other problems.

What we were taught about “The First Thanksgiving” and what many of us have inadvertently perpetuate in our students and even our own children seems to be a sort of mishmashed conglomerate of ideas that have been taught as ‘the way things were’ to students for many, many years. Much of that mishmash is made up of stereotypes of Native Americans. These stereotypes lead many Native Americans to be uncomfortable and offended with the “traditional” way Thanksgiving is presented to students. Many of the books were also written from very Eurocentric viewpoints, as if the Europeans’ version of events is the only true version, as if there was no thriving society in America before they came, as if the Indian viewpoint does not matter enough to write or consider. In other words, the books are “whitewashed.” In addition to that, in many instances, the historical inaccuracies also amount to ‘whitewashing’ – for example, an innocuous sounding, “The ‘Pilgrims’ found corn” covers the more historically accurate version which amounts to that the Europeans took the Indians’ cached corn in addition to items from a child’s grave and things from two Indian homes, all with no restitution. See the Deconstructing article for more on this point.

Several examples of Eurocentric writing that perpetuate stereotypes stood out to me. In The First Thanksgiving by Linda Hayward, the ‘Pilgrims’ spend 30 of the 48 pages in this book being afraid of the Indians. The book is peppered with phrases such as,
“They’ve been warned that Indians may attack them.”
America looks wild and strange. Is it safe? Are Indians hiding in the forest?”
“Suddenly they see Indians! But the Indians are frightened and run away.”
“They know the Indians are watching them. They can see smoke from their campfires. They can hear them in the woods. A guard is posted day and night.”
“The Indians must not know how few Pilgrims are left.”
“Indians are sighted nearby. They come closer and closer. Then one day an Indian walks right into the settlement. The children are terrified. But the Indian smiles and says, ‘Welcome’. His name is Samoset. He speaks English! The Pilgrims ask Samoset many questions. They give him presents. They want to trust this friendly Indian. Samoset comes back with an Indian named Squanto. He speaks even better English!”
The book then goes on to give an unrealistically oversimplified (and inaccurate) version of how, after that, the ‘Pilgrims’ and Indians were friends. (Read the Deconstructing article to find out why I put ‘Pilgrims’ in quotes.)

In addition to the extremely condescending tone of the book towards Native Americans (“He speaks even better English!”) and general feeling it leaves me with (Indians being akin to wild dogs that run and hide in the forest) is a clear message that Indians are not to be trusted. “They want to trust Samoset” (but can’t because he’s an Indian?). That is what will be passed on to every child that hears or read this book. They may not be able to articulate the message they are getting out of this book (just like I couldn’t before I put considerable thought and effort into understanding and articulating why it was so offensive to me), but they will be learning exactly that.

Another example of that sort of unthinking condescension that so frequently peppers the Eurocentric view in these books is in Marc Brown’s Arthur’s Thanksgiving. Let me just say that I love Marc Brown’s books in general and also his character, Arthur. Marc Brown is one of the authors I do author studies on. I promote and read many different Arthur books to my students. So the discomfort and offense this book gave me was doubly disappointing. In the book, Arthur and his pals are putting on the “traditional” Thanksgiving play for school. Through this book, they are passing on historically inaccurate information to kids. Here is a problematic excerpt as Arthur and pals try to decide who will play which part for the play:

Arthur showed Muffy a drawing of the turkey costume.
“Lots of feathers,” said Arthur. It’s a very glamorous role.”
“Yuk! Vomitrocious!” squealed Muffy. I should be the Indian princess. I have real braids."
“Brain, I’ve saved the most intelligent part for you," explained Arthur.
“No way will I be the turkey,” answered Brain. "I'll be the Indian chief."
Which leaves at least three impressions: 1) that there are “Indian princesses,” 2) “Indian princesses” all have braids, and 3) that a turkey is more intelligent than an Indian, since Brain assumed that Arthur was talking about the turkey when Arthur said he had saved the most intelligent part for Brain.

Jean Craighead George is another of my favorite authors. But her book, The First Thanksgiving is full of historical inaccuracies, many of which whitewash the situation. But her last sentence of the book is the killer, to me. She refers to Plymouth Rock and then says, “It is the rock on which our nation began.”

Excuse me? America did not begin until the ‘Pilgrims’ arrived? America had no cultures, societies, nothing until the ‘Pilgrims’ arrived and there was supposedly a Thanksgiving feast with the Indians? This is an obvious example of Eurocentric writing discounting any view but that of Europeans. It is highly offensive to those of us who are Indian or part Indian. It should be highly offensive to everyone since incorrect information has been passed along to all readers.

Some may say that I am overly sensitive to this topic in my reactions to the above examples of stereotypes and Eurocentric writing. I encourage you to substitute similar analogies in the above examples using “African Americans” instead of “Indians.” Did you try it? Sound a little fishy? Substitute in your heritage group for “Indians.” Starting to smart a little?

Now add to that a big theme that is based on historical inaccuracies – inaccuracies about a series of events, inaccuracies about your heritage group (as well as stereotypes), and inaccuracies about the supposed ‘culminating’ event. Starting to feel uncomfortable? Perhaps a little offended?

Let’s take it a step further. Let’s teach all of that about your heritage group – the stereotypes, the inaccuracies, the whitewashing – to kids as the truth. Let’s make school plays out of it and teach it as if it were fact. And then let’s continue to believe it and teach it and give life to it as adults despite many of your heritage group’s objections, and despite the availability of resources and information on how to teach accurately, non-offensively, and not inadvertently.

And now I can say that I understand why those books were on the “Books to Avoid about Thanksgiving list from Oyate.

*It should be noted that the list of “Books to Avoid about Thanksgiving” is not exhaustive, which is why we all need to read critically with an understanding of historical accuracy as well as the issues of Eurocentrism and stereotypes. Oyate also has a list of References/Recommended books.

Kara Stewart

Edited on July 23, 2015, to update links.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Taylor (5th grader): "Do you mean all those Thanksgiving worksheets we had to color every year with all those smiling Indians were wrong?"

This morning I received an email from a teacher who wrote to share what Taylor, a fifth grader, wrote in response to having studied a speech written by a Wampanoag man, Wamsutta (Frank B.) James.

Some context: Back in 1970, James was invited to an event in Plymouth, Massachusetts that was designed to celebrate "The First Thanksgiving." He was asked to submit his remarks ahead of time to the planners. When they read what he planned to say, the invitation was withdrawn. His speech is now titled "The Suppressed Speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, Wampanoag" and is associated with an event that takes place in Plymouth. That event is "Thanksgiving: A National Day of Mourning."

Upon reading the speech that James intended to read, one of Taylor's initial responses was this:
"Do you mean all those Thanksgiving worksheets we had to color every year with all those smiling Indians were wrong?" 
Struck by the fact that history was more complicated than she'd been taught, Taylor chose to skip recess and begin her assignment. Here it is, published with permission from Taylor, her teacher, and her mother.

My Response to “Thanksgiving: A National Day of Mourning”  
By Taylor M., Grade 5

Frank James, also known as Wamsutta, was correct in writing a protest speech on Thanksgiving in 1970. For James, Thanksgiving was a sad day, and this is true for many Native Americans even in the present day. The Pilgrims made the Native people into slaves. James wrote, “Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for explorers to capture Indians and sell them for slaves.” The Pilgrims sometimes tortured the Indians. James reported, “Sometimes an Indian was pressed between stone slabs and hanged as any other ‘witch’.” The Pilgrims punished the Indians if they didn’t believe in the Christian religion. James wrote in his speech, “If the Native Americans didn’t believe in [the Pilgrim’s] religion, [the Pilgrims] would dig up the ground and release the great epidemic again.” In conclusion, Frank James was correct to write his protest speech so people would look at Thanksgiving from his point of view. He illustrated how badly the European settlers mistreated his people, the Wampanoag and why Thanksgiving, for his people, is a day of mourning and reflection.

And here is a note Taylor wrote to me:

When I started this assignment in school about Pilgrims and Indians, I learned a lot at first, but then I read Frank James’ protest speech and to be honest, I was speechless. The way the Pilgrims punished the Indians was gruesome and I felt sorry for them. For a second, I had to put the packet down it was so horrible. I mean, the way my book and the speech were written it sounded like in the beginning that the relationship between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people started off well. But, when it started to get deeper into the story, the more Pilgrims started to spread out across the U.S.A, the more the Native American people realized that they were in harm and in danger, and that they were being kicked out of their land. The sad part for me was how the Pilgrims thought the Native Americans were savages just because they didn’t believe in the Pilgrims’ religion. 

I thought about all the way back to Kindergarten, right before Thanksgiving break we would always get these coloring worksheets of the happy little Pilgrims and Indians giving each other things. Up until now, I didn’t really realize that that’s not how it happened. Showing the happy little cartoon Indian was a lie. I think Kindergarteners and young children should know what actually happened, not with gruesome details, but they should know more of the truth. 

The way I felt after I read my book about Thanksgiving and Wamsutta’s speech, I was sad, angry, and heartbroken for the Indians. We should teach Americans not just to be happy for the Pilgrim’s survival, but we should also be respectful, reflective, sad, and even upset for the Wampanoag tribe and other Native American tribes.

I think it is fair to say that this experience was a life-changing moment for Taylor. She uses strong language ("the happy little cartoon Indian was a lie") and I think she is starting down a road where she will always question what she reads. Questioning is a good thing to do. I think she's going to love Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. I think she'll like what she finds on the Zinn Education Project website. And, I think she'll also like the PBS series, We Shall Remain. I hope her school or public library has a copy of it. 

Reading her words gives me great hope. We need more Taylor's and we need more teachers who design lessons that encourage critical thinking. With that in mind, I'll point readers to an excellent piece that ran in Indian Country Today last year. Titled "What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving," it is an interview with Ramona Peters, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's Tribal Historic Preservation Officer.  

Thank you, Taylor, for sharing your response with me and my readers! I'd love to hear more from you. 

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

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Native Americans and Thanksgiving

Reenactments of historical events are a much loved pastime. I first came across one 12 years ago in Illinois. On a field were people dressed as knights, carrying all manner of weaponry. I thought it was a movie set, but learned it was a group that does this on a regular basis.

In school, we teach children to do reenactments, like "The First Thanksgiving." Lots of time is spent making hats and headdresses and other articles of clothing, and, talking about "The First Thanksgiving."

But is this particular reenactment best practice? Is it educationally sound? Certainly, it is fun for some of those who do it, but should teachers and children be doing it at all?

Teachers work very hard, but receive little respect for their work. And, they are underpaid, too, often spending chunks of their too-small salaries to buy things their schools cannot provide. Due to lack of time and resources, teachers often recycle activities from one year to the next. I think Thanksgiving reeactments are one of those things that gets recycled. Developing new ways of teaching about Thanksgiving will take time and money. Before that can happen, however, teachers must learn more about Pilgrims, Indians, and "The First Thanksgiving."

They can start with Deconstructing the Myths of "The First Thanksgiving," a free resource by Judy Dow and Beverly Slapin, available at Oyate. At the bottom of "Deconstructing the Myths" are two lists of recommended books. It includes three lists of books: 1) Recommended Books about Thanksgiving, Also take a look at their  "Books to Avoid" about Thanksgiving.

Not surprising, but still disheartening, is the number of books on the first two lists. Dow and Slapin's short list includes only one work of fiction: Jake Swamp's Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message, published in 1995 by Lee and Low. The other five children's books on their list are non-fiction, and one is a teacher resource. In contrast, there are over 80 books on the "Books to Avoid" list, but it doesn't have to stay that way.

Teachers are a powerful group. You can effect change. Because of teachers' letters telling them that children were using "Indian Red" to color Indians red, Crayola changed the name of their "Indian Red" crayon to "chestnut." With Thanksgiving coming up, perhaps teachers can push publishers to give them better books. To find contact information for them, go to Children's Book Publishers at Kay Vandergrift's website on children's literature. (You'll have to hunt around on a publisher's website to find their "contact us" page with addresses and phone numbers.)

Obviously, we need more books on Dow and Slapin's recommended list, but they won't be written unless people ask for them.