Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving Book Review

"Oatmeal! And horses!"

Those are the answers to my question, "What are you thankful for, Abigail?" Oh, and her friend, Joel, and after much prompting family.

We traced her hand, making an oddly two-dimensional turkey. We wrote in the things and people for which she is thankful, and she colored the bird purple with strokes and circle swirls.

My husband and I like this holiday for two reasons. We spend time with family. He gorges on his favorite foods. He and I will never agree: I prefer fresh cranberry sauce and he would rather taste jellied Ocean Spray; I visit the buffet once, filling my plate with lots of green, he visits 2.5 times and smothers everything in gravy.
No competition.

Something we agree on and could care less about is the feel-good Pilgrim legend surrounding the American Thanksgiving. Settlers from Europe were hardly good news to the native peoples of New England. Genocide and slavery should never be celebrated.

But our kids aren't yet ready for such an in-depth history lesson. And our extended family and neighbors celebrate together in some way on Thanksgiving. So for now, we omit any telling about Pilgrims and native peoples. For now, we focus on the foods served, the family and friends gathered, and the things and people for which we are genuinely thankful.

Here are some juvenile books reviewed by our family. We've found them helpful the past two years.

This is Thanksgiving, Harriet Ziefert, author, and Deborah Zemke, illustrator
ISBN 1593540655 board book, 2004, Blue Apple Books (Ziefert started this publisher)
Appropriate ages: 12 months+; the publisher suggests 2-5 years

Ziefert builds her rhyming text focused on food, and then focused on family, so that there's lots of repetition. Toddlers will love identifying the foods pictures mixed in with the text, to help 'read.' Parents will like that the book ends with large fold-out pages and the reminder that we should be thankful for our blessings all year long. There's no mention of religion or the false Pilgrim legend. Most foods are turkey (obviously) and vegetables with no mention of dessert. My one critique has to do with inclusion: the book includes only relatives with no friends or neighbors present; therefore, all people illustrated are white.

A. liked this book at both 20 and 32 months. When she was younger, we read it together like this:
"This is the..." "Turkey!"
"Stuffed and brown, the finest turkey in the town, to go with the..." "Cranberry sauce!"
"So..." "Sweet!"
"One of the things we love to..." "Eat!"
Now, this year, we've almost reversed roles because the rhyming makes it so easy to remember. :-)

The Night Before Thanksgiving, Natasha Wing, author, and Tammie Lyon, illustrator
ISBN 0448425297, 2001, Grosset & Dunlap
Appropriate ages: 2 years+; the publisher suggests 4-8 years

A fun twist on the poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, this book includes lots of Thanksgiving activities beyond eating. Children watch the parade on TV, the kids help set the table, cousins make up a play together, they play sports in the yard, and there's an almost disaster with the finished bird. Most of the pictures and  perspective of the text is from the children's' point of view. The rhyming text engages even an antsy toddler, who can show off their smarts completing the second rhyme after a couple of reads. No mention of religion (although there's almost table grace said at the end). The kids make Pilgrim hats and buckles and put on a skit, but other than that, there's no mention of the legend. My critique has to do with inclusion again: no mention of neighbors and friends included in the feast, therefore, all people present are white.

A. liked the kid-centered activities, from all the expected ones like helping set the table, to the silly details like pretending olives on fingers are puppets. The illustrations include lots of fun details, too, like a little girl slipping a dog a bite to eat under the table.

This Is The Turkey, Abby Levine, author, Paige Billin-Frye, illustrator
ISBN0807578894, 2000, Albert Whitman Prairie Paperback
Appropriate ages: 15 months+; amazon recommends 4 years+

The rhyming text in this book builds in a lot of repetition in a style that reminds me of "The House That Jack Built." Vocabulary includes food with an emphasis on turkey and vegetables (okay, cookies and pie get two mentions), and also nuclear and extended family member vocabulary. Neighbors come with dessert - and they are a different ethnicity than the featured family! Max, the older brother, can hardly wait for the meal. He picked out the turkey and excitedly prepares with his parents and younger sister. A toy he left on the floor spells disaster for the finished turkey, but his grandparents redirect his disappointment to what's truly important. The family and neighbors also spend time after the meal playing games, sports, music, and looking at photos together. There's no mention of religion or the Pilgrim legend. Wish this came in a board book edition for durability!

A. requested this book about six times the first day we read it because of the disaster. She works really hard to understand sadness and disappointment in others - even book characters. This book followed our own extended family experience the closest, and prepared Abigail well for several wood floor wipe outs (accidents happen) and a couple of new friends mixed in with our family. Hands down, this was her favorite read.


Hopefully in the next five weeks we'll review Advent and Christmas books and activities! And I want to link with some other families to get a wide picture of how we teach Christmas to our children.

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