Looking for the best Thanksgiving books for kids to share with you all, it’s become increasingly important for us to share Thanksgiving books for kids from a Native perspective — and more than that, books about Thanksgiving from Native authors and illustrators themselves.
We realize how much our knowledge and understanding changed and evolved over the past 15 years. Which is why, as we mentioned in our post about Thanksgiving crafts for kids, we are determined to better understand the Native person’s perspective of Thanksgiving so that we can avoid hurtful caricatures, be more sensitive around issues of cultural appropriation, and overall, evolve in how we talk about history with our kids — similar to how we confront the narrative about the “discovery” of America.
But finding books for kids that tell the story of the first Thanksgiving from the Native point of view can still be hard, among the sea of picture books about Thanksgiving. So please consider these 10 Thanksgiving books for kids, all written from the Native perspective, by Native people.
And look, we know it’s hard for our brains to let go of “facts” that are baked in, and it’s hard to change family lore and traditions. But you know, one of the coolest things about being parents is that we get to take what we like about the traditions we grew up with, evolve them, and then create our own.
This post has been updated for 2023; we appreciate so many thoughtful comments about our original post that helped inform our new book recommendations.
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10 Thanksgiving Books for Kids From a Native Perspective
While not all of them are specifically about the story of “Thanksgiving,” we think this is a great list of books for kids to share during the Thanksgiving season because they paint a more complete picture of the Native experience in America.
3 books about Thanksgiving written by Native people
New for 2022, Keepunumuk: Weeachumun’s Thanksgiving Story is a beautifully illustrated and more complete story of Keepunumuk, the time of harvest for the Wampanoag people from the regions around Plymouth. Written and illustrated by Native people, including Danielle Greendeer of the Mashpee Wampanoag Nation, the story centers on the Wampanoag experience as told by a grandmother to her grandchildren.
The book introduces kids to the “three sisters” of corn, beans, and squash which were so important to the survival of those early tribes and settlers and weaves in the figures of Ousamequin (Massasoit) and Tisquantum (Squanto).The glossary of words and pronunciation, recipes, activities and additional historical information makes this as much a teaching tool as a story book. (ages 3-7)
And speaking of a teaching tool, don’t miss Bioneers’ terrific resources to help you in Decolonizing Thanksgiving which references the above title as well. Articles, videos, and educational resources–including lesson plans–are readily available to anyone who would like to learn.
1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving isn’t quite a “new look” considering it’s almost 20 years old, but relative to the decades of Thanksgiving misperceptions in this country, it’s still pretty darn new. Co-authored by Margaret Bruchac (Abenaki), this is a terrific book about Thanksgiving for older kids and families 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)
A good resource for teens, adults, and teachers, Thanksgiving: A Native Perspective contains a collection of essays, speeches, stories, and activities to challenge outdated views of Thanksgiving. This important book has been edited by Doris Seale, a Santee Dakota, Abenaki and Cree librarian, poet, writer, and educator who co-founded an advocacy/education organization to review children’s literature for historical accuracy, cultural appropriateness and anti-Native bias and stereotypes. (ages 14+)
3 books about being thankful written by Native people
We are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell (Cherokee) shows younger kids how traditional values centered around thankfulness and gratitude are honored today by people in Cherokee Nation. Since our kids will be asked what they are thankful for as they sit around the Thanksgiving table, I love how this book can give them food for thought on how to incorporate gratitude into their everyday lives. (ages 3-7)
Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp (Mohawk) has been a beloved children’s book for more than 25 years. Though not specifically about Thanksgiving, it’s a great children’s book for Thanksgiving because it was written to help younger readers better appreciate the earth and all it provides.
Grounded in themes of love, spirituality and gratitude and written by the late Mohawk Nation diplomat and Tree of of Peace Society founder, the prose comes to life with gorgeously illustrated pages by Erwin Printup Jr. 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)
Though his well-known book Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving has come under fire for being a “feel good” story (thus, why we removed it in the 2022 edit of this article), Joseph Bruchac’s The Circle of Thanks: Native American Poems and Songs of Thanksgiving Is a much more poignant collection of poems based on traditional Native songs and prayers.
As an Abenaki himself, Burchac’s poems draw on a cross-section of Native American tribes including Cherokee, Kwakiutl, Pawnee, Navajo, and Papago. 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 4-9)
4 books about the harvest and Native food as we celebrate Thanksgiving
As we get ready to celebrate a holiday that for most of us is centered around the food at our table, kids may appreciate hearing more about traditional Native foods and their important to their tribes across the country from these four books:
Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition by Sally M. Hunter (Ho-Chunk)
The Sacred Harvest: Ojibway Wild Rice Gathering by Gordon Regguiniti (Ojibwe)
Clambake: A Wampanoag Tradition by Russell M. Peters (Wampanoag)
Ininatig’s Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugarmaking by Laura Waterman Wittstock (Seneca)
They’re all terrific resources, all written by Native people from which to teach our kids about different tribes and their traditional foods. While not specific to Thanksgiving, each story highlights the importance of carrying on traditions — which is of course what a lot of the Thanksgiving celebration has become for families in the U.S. these days. (ages 8+)
In researching this piece, we’d like to credit the excellent website we’ve come across, American Indians in Children’s Literature, which has published a list of Good Books About Thanksgiving as we as a List of Thanksgiving Books to Avoid.
Also, please consider finding your own town on this Native Land Map so you might take a moment during your Thanksgiving dinner to give thanks to those who built and harvested the land where you now sit.