Looking for the best Thanksgiving books for kids to share this week is a no-brainer for us; Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s low pressure (unless you’re doing all the cooking), no fancy outfits to shop for, no gifts. Just a weekend with the people I love most in the world. But while the spirit of the holiday for my family is really about togetherness, I’ve also been thinking a lot about the true history of Thanksgiving, and how we’ve become more enlightened in recent years about the longtime misrepresentation of the Native people whose land was decidedly not “discovered” by anyone. And the truth is, most Thanksgiving books for kids really haven’t caught up with the times. Even the new ones.
As I mentioned in our recent post about Thanksgiving crafts for kids, I think a lot of us at Cool Mom Picks are feeling more determined to better understand the Native American point of view of Thanksgiving so that we can avoid hurtful caricatures, be more sensitive to cultural appropriation, and overall, evolve in how we talk about history with our kids.
And look, I know that can be hard. I also grew up buying into the whole kumbaya story about the Natives and the Pilgrims, and making “Indian headdresses” for Thanksgiving crafts; it’s not always easy to totally shift both perspectives and traditions at once.
Fortunately, there are quite a few fantastic books and resources out there to help us better educate ourselves and our children. I’m grateful to Kate and Serena who have helped me track down a few Thanksgiving books for kids from the Native perspective that look really interesting. I especially like that most were written by (or at least with the help of) Native American authors. I only wish that there were more, that are more recent. This is a perspective that needs to more widely accessible.
So if we’ve missed your own favorite, please share it with us in comments. We’re always looking for more great books from diverse voices.
All books are available from our affiliate Amazon, or check with your independent bookseller or your local library.
Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp
Told from the perspective of a contemporary Mohawk chief, Giving Thanks (also at top) has been a beloved children’s book for the last 20 years that conveys Native beliefs through the words of the Iroquois people. And those beliefs are pretty powerful, grounded in themes of love, spirituality and gratitude. Written by the late Mohawk Nation diplomat and Tree of of Peace Society Founder Chief Jake Swamp, the prose comes to live with gorgeously illustrated pages by Erwin Printup Jr., all designed to help younger readers better appreciate the earth and all it provides us. Because while our kids may feel grateful for stuffing and pie right now, it’s a great reminder that all year long, we should be giving thanks for the wind, the rain, the green grasses, and the stars, which work together to bring us what we have. | Ages 5-11 years old.
Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac
We all know that the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth in 1620, but I admit I didn’t know a lot of details about the Pokanoket tribe, who inhabited the area first. In Squanto’s Journey, Joseph Bruchac, an author of Native descent, shares the perspective of the tribesman who welcomed the newcomers and taught them how to survive the winter — despite having once been kidnapped by the English and sold into slavery. So indeed, while this is a biography geared best to grade-schoolers, know that it pulls no punches and will open some hard conversations with kids about the true relationship between Pilgrims and the Native tribes. That’s not a bad things of course; and the book will also help explain in a more historically accurate way how Squanto’s knowledge of harvesting eventually turned into the tradition of Thanksgiving. | Ages 6-10
The Very First Americans by Cara Ashrose
For a great primer on the differences between various Native American tribes, this is a captivating, and accurate look at how different Native people lived. Bryna Waldman’s gorgeous watercolor paintings bring to life the clothing, homes, tools, and art of tribes from the Makah to the Comanche, and parents laud it as a really engaging book for younger readers. I like the idea of explaining to my kids that there’s no one “Native outfit” or universal tribal symbols, and helping them understand that the skills and lifestyles of various Native peoples differed by location and tradition across the country. | Ages 4-8
1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace
This National Geographic Society book isn’t quite a “new look” considering it’s more than 10 years old, but relative to the decades of Thanksgiving misperceptions in this country, it is pretty darn new. This is a terrific resource for families with older kids who want to better understand what really happened during the first Thanksgiving. This incredibly well-researched, culturally accurate book provides an account from the Wampanoag perspective, and I bet that even younger kids who don’t understand all the details will love the maps, photographs, and interesting facts that will make for great talk over the Thanksgiving table. | Ages 8-12.
Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition (We Are Still Here) by Sally M. Hunter
This book is out of print and only available from third-party sellers (I suggest you get a used version which is most affordable) but based on reviews I’ve seen, it’s worth a look. It may be likely to engage older grade-schoolers with a relatable story about a twelve-year-old in the Winnebago tribe, learning about his own people’s traditions even while he himself is into sports and computers. The story highlights the importance of traditions which is of course what a lot of the Thanksgiving celebration has become for families these days. | Ages 8 and up.
The Circle of Thanks: Native American Poems and Songs of Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac
Also by Joseph Bruchac, this is another Thanksgiving book for kids that looks like a really engaging way for my kids to learn more about traditional songs and prayers. The content comes from a cross-section of Native American tribes including Cherokee, Kwakiutl, Pawnee, Navajo, and Papago. The one issue is that it’s not clear from the book just how to sing the songs (perhaps that’s okay considering my singing voice) but the lyrics read aloud as poems should be just as celebratory. I think the Mohawk song thanking Mother Earth who is “there to catch us if we should fall” sounds like a very thoughtful way to get kids really thinking about gratitude for the natural world in a new way. | Ages 4 and up.
Native American History for Kids by Karen Bush Gibson
This highly-lauded book by children’s non-fiction author Karen Gibson is not specific to Thanksgiving per se, but looks like a terrific, comprehensive and engaging guide. It’s meant for families who want to learn more about what happened to the Native Americans when European settlers arrived, and their ensuing centuries-long struggle with war, displacement, broken treaties and more. Here again, we’re dealing with some brutal realities of history that can be tough to discuss. But the narrative can also be hopeful and inspiring; I know my kids will enjoy the profiles of famous Native Americans that are interspersed through the chapters. As you can guess from the title, the book also includes 21 activities to bring some Native traditions to life in a hands-on-way — but give yourself a little time if you want to try weaving baskets out of newspaper, playing the Penobscot children’s game Ball-and-Triangle, or planting a Three Sisters garden. | Ages 9-12 years old.