On the fourth Thursday in November, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving by sharing a traditional feast with our family and friends. If you are in the United States, you have probably grown up with a story about the Pilgrims and Indians sharing a similar meal of thanksgiving, after a plentiful harvest. While some of the story is drawn from facts, some has been embellished, romanticized, or completely made up. In 2001, a new book was published that explored what actually happened in 17th century Massachusetts that fall. This unique Thanksgiving book for kids sheds light on what happened during this historical time.
Be prepared to throw out your stereotypes of pilgrims dressed in black and white, and American Indians with feathered headdresses and beaded vests. 1621 A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace, Sisse Brimberg, and Plimoth Plantation debunks some of the common myths associated with this historically significant holiday and teaches the readers about the Wapanoag people and the group of English settlers that had survived a year in their new, harsh land in 1621. Published by the National Geographic Society, the stunning photographs depict life in this 17th century settlement, and the feast that later inspired a national holiday.
The book begins explaining how (in the 19th century) a 1621 letter that contained one paragraph about a harvest gathering inspired the growth of an American tradition that grew into what is now Thanksgiving:
by the English calendar it is autumn, 1621. For the Wampanoag it is keepunumuk, the time of the harvest. In a small settlement on the edge of the sea, more than 90 native men members of the Wampanoag nation share food with 52 English people. The english are survivors of the 101 who arrived less than a year earlier aboard a ship called mayflower. For more than 12,000 years native people have fished these waters, hunted these woods, and cultivated these fields. The Wampanoag know this village site as Patuxet. The English have renamed it New Plymouth.
The wonderful book teaches us about the Wampanoag people, their language, and their diplomacy, and also the settlers’ food, clothing and shelter. National Geographic photographer Sisse Brimberg’s photographs show contemporary Wampanoag man and women dressed in traditional clothes of deerskin, elk hide, moose hide and fur re-enacting the multi-day feast with actors from Plimoth Plantation (“Plymouth” as it was originally spelled) dressed as the colonists would have been. This reenactment uses 17th century artifacts and draws on historical documents for a truly unique and more authentic examination of Thanksgiving than ever before.
I highly recommend looking for this book to share with your kids. For my 4 year olds, I ad-libbed a watered down version while they poured over the marvelous photographs. I imagine doing the same with my high school ESL students- they would really enjoy the story paired with the photos. Otherwise, I would use this book with elementary school students in first grade or higher, adapting it to their needs and level. This is a must-read if studying Thanksgiving with your children!