Children's books for Thanksgiving 🦃
Can we read? Special edition: Thanksgiving
The morning I’m writing this — the first official day of autumn — is the first where I woke up after a restless night’s sleep, shivering, too cold with the windows open and inadequate covers on the bed. Fall is here, surprisingly right on time, and there are, as ever, so many things to be thankful for:
Going out with my girlfriends. Coming home to a quiet, peaceful house. Wearing a sweatshirt from a local independent bookstore handed down to me by one of my dearest friends, full of her wonderful smell. The sun shining through the birch tree outside the window of my home office. Having a day off — having paid time off to begin with — which I took so I can work on this newsletter. Warm clothing for my children as the seasons change. Creamy oatmeal, hot chocolate, warm tea. My wool slippers, which are at the end of their days but that I keep mending, extending their usefulness, instant comfort for my sore feet. Walking five and a half miles yesterday, talking to my sister on my airpods the whole time (something that doesn’t seem all that remarkable or worth my gratitude unless you know how just remarkable it is and how grateful I am).
Gratitude is a central — possibly the principle — part of my spiritual practice. Not a day goes by without a thank you for something, even the smallest things, even on the hardest days, crossing my lips. There are plenty of other ways to pray, but this is mine.
Nevertheless, there is something special about this time of year — or there can be, if we choose it. And I don’t mean this day we’ve collectively decided to set aside, even though its origins grow ever more dubious and the hours we dedicate to genuine thanksgiving seem to dwindle every year, sped up by the falsified drive to shop and spend.
No, I mean the mindset — the decision to sing a praise song for our lives and all the good things in it. That has nothing to do with driving eight hours to juggle full plates of food and a lot of conversation in a small, hot house packed with 60-some-odd people (my experience) and everything to do with how I frame that. Thank you for our traveling safely. Thank you for having family, even one I married into, that keeps traditions alive. Thank you for my mother-in-law’s sweet tea, and green bean casserole, and the option of chocolate chip cookies instead of pumpkin pie. Thank you for my children’s smiling faces. Thank you for time out of time. Thank you to all the people who have existed — who dreamed and loved and worked hard and survived — so that I could be here, alive on this blue planet, in this gorgeous broken world, at this exact time.
It’s not one specific, single day for me, nor is it any kind of traditional celebration of Thanksgiving as we know it, but rather a set-aside time, an annual re-acknowledgment of my harvest and bounty — all I’ve worked for, all I’ve been given.
I explain this to my children in words, sure, but mostly by example: look around you. This is the way I give thanks. These are the things I give thanks for.
It’s not always about the holiday; it is always about the mindset, the idea that gratitude is attitude, that my very life is a thank you, which I find is best communicated — and shared — through words: speaking, writing, reading them.
I hope you find some new titles to explore with your family this year.
Thankful by Elaine Vickers, illustrated by Samantha Cotterill (2021)
Every year when the first snow
falls, we make thankful chains
to last us through December.
It is hard to think of all the things
to be thankful for in a whole year,
so I start right in my own room.
Thus begins a thankfulness recitation, one girl’s journey through all the things she is thankful for: her home and parents, love and dreams, “a moon and sun that always come back,” and beyond. The simple, everyday quality of her gratitude along with the various sensory details (“I am thankful for things that are warm: soup and socks and the spot under the covers where someone has just been sleeping” — yes!) bring all these things, big and small, to life.
It’s worth mentioning that the illustrations for this unique book are hand-built, three-dimensional sets photographed with a digital SLR camera — kind of like a stop-motion movie, without the motion — and let me tell you: they’re phenomenal, adding depth and a level of interest that might not otherwise exist.
This book is a lovely anthem to one girl’s little — but infinitely valuable — world and all the things in it, and offers perfect entry for readers to approach their own worlds in this manner, in this season, too.
Thanks to the Animals by Allen J. Sockabasin, illustrated by Rebekah Raye (2005)
When tiny Zoo Sap falls off the back of his family’s sled, the animals of the forest are alerted by his crying and one by one come to keep him warm and dry — first the big creatures lie together and then the little ones come to fill in the gaps, until even majestic Eagle appears to perch on top and spread her wings over all. When his father, Joo Tum, realizes the baby is gone and returns to the trail to find his son, he travels all night, only to find the little one “safely sleeping in a great big pile of warm animals.”
This isn’t a Thanksgiving story in any way, but Sockabasin, who is Passamaquoddy, offers such a simple, beautiful story about selflessness and gratitude (and Raye’s charming colored pencil illustrations are so fascinating for children, especially very young ones), it just fits: this is a super sweet one perfect for this time of year.
Gracias the Thanksgiving Turkey by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (2005)
When Miguel’s father, a long-haul trucker, sends him a turkey in a box with instructions to fatten it up for Thanksgiving, Miguel takes excellent care of the bird, who he names Gracias, and the two become friends. (Cepeda’s rich oil paintings show clearly that, between boy and turkey at least, it’s love at first sight.)
The whole neighborhood looks out for Gracias, but people keep mentioning ovens, and Miguel is unsettled by this. He wants another turkey for Thanksgiving, but Gracias’ fate seems sealed until one day — through a series of strange events that I won’t spoil here — Gracias is blessed by Padre Jaime at Mass. Will Gracias end up on the family’s holiday table? And, equally importantly, will Miguel’s father make it home in time to share the special meal?
This story about friendship, devotion, and the many ways we save each other — human and animal alike — is a beautiful Thanksgiving read for the whole family.
1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac, photographs by Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson (2004)
The text on the jacket flap of this book says it beautifully: “Taking a new look at Thanksgiving means putting aside the myth. It means taking a new look at history. It means questioning what we think we know. It means recovering lost voices — the voices of the Wampanoag people. True history includes the voices of all its participants. Read, listen, and think about our shared history.”
This is a welcoming invitation into this text-heavy, photo-journalistic nonfiction book that’s best for older readers (late elementary and up, though you could adapt it for younger children with some explanation). The history, reenacted and told by various scholars, including Native ones (Bruchac is of Abenaki descent and serves as an advisor for the Wampanoag Indian Program at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum of 17th-century Plymouth), is straightforward but utterly fascinating, especially if you grew up with the story about Pilgrims arriving to empty land occasionally occupied by Native wanderers — which is completely untrue.
This is an incredibly important book that tackles long-standing assumptions and separates fiction from fact — a necessary unlearning for many of us, and a fantastic place to start to get it right for the next generation, who will, after all, be the ones to pass on the history to the next, and the next.
Around the Table That Grandad Built by Melanie Heuiser Hill, illustrated by Jaime Kim (2019)
This darling and warm cumulative tale about setting the table that grandad built, and putting all sorts of wonderful cooked goodies on it for a big special meal, is perfect to share with toddlers and preschoolers this Thanksgiving (even though it never overtly mentions the holiday).
Kim’s vibrant illustrations, created using acrylic paint, crayons, and digital tools, pair as wonderfully as mashed potatoes and butter with Heiuser Hill’s text to portray a diverse spread of dishes (homegrown squash, toasty tamales, samosas, rice pudding, Dad’s huckleberry jam) and faces, in a truly joyous celebration of family, togetherness, and love.
Thanks a Million by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera (2006)
If you’re looking for poetry to fit the season, look no further than this quiet-but-lovely collection from master poet Grimes, coupled with inviting acrylic illustrations from Cabrera.
Grimes’ poems in this collection include end-rhyme, free verse, rebus, and even one for two voices and focus on topics that range from mundane (school, sports, and neighbors) to much more profound (loss and grief, and sleeping in a homeless shelter). Like all her work, they are always excellent, inventive, and full of emotional honesty — never, ever talking down to young readers but rather embracing their hopes, dreams, fears, and struggles as real, valid, and worthy of acknowledging through beautiful language and writing. Here Grimes frames for us the various things in life — large and little, good or bad — for which to give thanks a million.
Rich or poor,
we all own
two tiny treasures.
Worthless if saved,
they are priceless when spent.
What are they?
Also highly recommended
Over the River and Through the Woods: A Holiday Adventure by Linda Ashman
All of Me: A Book of Thanks by Molly Bang (I reviewed this in issue No. 12)
Apple Cake: A Gratitude by Dawn Casey
Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell (I reviewed this in my very first issue)
I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie by Alison Jackson
The Most Thankful Thing by Lisa McCourt
Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller
Gracias · Thanks by Pat Mora
Brother Sun, Sister Moon: Saint Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures reimagined by Katherine Paterson (this is overtly Christian but also one of the most beautiful poetry picture books I’ve ever read)
Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp
May We Have Enough To Share by Richard Van Camp
The Circle of Thanks: Native American Poems and Songs of Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac
Thanksgiving Day at Our House: Thanksgiving Poems for the Very Young by Nancy White Carlstrom
Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving edited by Katherine Paterson
Thanku: Poems of Gratitude, edited by Miranda Paul
Especially for babies and toddlers
Where is Baby’s Turkey? by Karen Katz
Tiny Blessings for Giving Thanks by Amy Parker
You Are My Pumpkin Pie by Amy E. Sklansky
Five Silly Turkeys by Salina Yoon
For older readers, or for read-alouds
Moominvalley in November by Tove Jansson
General books about saying and giving thanks
Thank You, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony
The Thank You Letter by Jane Cabrera
Ten Thank-You Letters by Daniel Kirk
The Thank You Book by Mary Lyn Ray
Curious George Says Thank You by Margret and H.A. Rey
Turkey Pox by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Thanksgiving Door by Debby Atwell
The Firefighters’ Thanksgiving by Maribeth Boelts
Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table by Vanessa Brantly Newton
Arthur’s Thanksgiving by Marc Brown
One Potato, Two Potato by Cynthia DeFelice
Spuds by Karen Hesse
Thanksgiving for Emily Ann by Teresa Johnston
Potatoes, Potatoes by Anita Lobel
Giving Thanks by Jonathan London
Katie Woo Saves Thanksgiving by Fran Manushkin
1, 2, 3 Thanksgiving! by W. Nikola-Lisa (a nice counting book)
The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
Rivka’s First Thanksgiving by Elsa Okon Rael
Too Many Turkeys by Linda White
Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson
I asked and you responded that yes, you want a printable PDF of all the books I mention in my special editions and Spotlight On issues, so here you are 💝
May your blessings be abundant, and may you have eyes to see all that you have.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, from me and mine 💛