thanks a million…a list of five books for Thanksgiving time

I’m getting a jump on Thanksgiving this year in hopes of giving you time to track down these lovely titles before the holiday (with apologies to my Canadian friends!)

thanks a million cover imageThanks a Million, poems by Nikki Grimes, illustrations by Cozbi A. Cabrera
published in 2006 by Greenwillow Books

For Nikki Grimes, the words, “thank you” are powerful. They not only bless the ones we thank, but they arise from deep places inside us as we recognize gifts we’ve been given.

We can be thankful for new friends who make us feel less like lonely strangers, for an author whose story comforts our thanks a million illustration cozbi a. cabrera 001unspoken wounds, for kind neighbors, for shelter even when that shelter is bleak. We can thank people who seem to shrug off our thanks, or our dad whose gesture of love we took for granted. Praise comes from the very trees, from those who cannot speak, and from all of us around the Thanksgiving table.

Grimes’ poems are brief, widely varied in structure,  accessible to children ages 4 or 5 and up, yet richly human and authentic.  They are written in the voices of children, but these children are thoughtful, perceptive, acknowledging the realities of a broken world that is still good, recognizing the wealth of love and friendship.

Cozbi Cabrera’s acrylic paintings are strong, vibrant, anchored in the real world, augmenting the thrumming pulse of life that runs through this book, thoroughly multi-cultural. Beautiful. No puny, saccherine thanks here. Highly recommended.

nickommoh cover imageNickommoh! A Thanksgiving Celebration, by Jackie French Koller, illustrated by Marcia Sewall
published in 1999 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

As you perhaps know, the Narragansett people were one of the tribes of Native Americans who for long years lived in the area we now call New England, and who welcomed the Pilgrims, helping them survive their crash course in North American living when they arrived in 1620.

What most of us have remained ignorant of is the rich culture of this people and the thanksgiving celebrations which were woven into their society. Jackie French Koller has worked with Dr. Ella Sekatau, Tribal Ethnohistorian of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, to bring us nickommoh by jackie french koller and marcia sewallthis fascinating, gorgeous account of a typical thanksgiving feast in the Narragansett tradition. Nickommoh is a word meaning “give away” or “exchange” and was used for these gatherings due to the custom of giving away excess food, furs, and clothing to those in need during these harvest celebrations.

The frost coats the fields, the people in their mocussinass come from far and near, lodges are built, games are played, venison and clams and berry cakes are cooked. Old and young prepare for the great dance. The Creator and Life-giver is praised. In poetic, graceful prose, stuffed with interesting detail and sprinkled with Narragansett words, Koller draws us into their lively, creative, gladsome festival which likely was an influence in the original Pilgrim thanksgiving celebration.

Marcia Sewall’s striking illustations are rendered in scratchboard and gouache. Bold, handsome black outlining and an earthy palette of bark browns, golden maize, splashes of clay-reds, plus the brilliant blue  ocean and star-studded night skies make incredibly handsome images. They generate a rich sense of community and happiness and connection with the land. Such beautiful work!

An Author’s Note and glossary of Narragansett words complete this excellent addition to your Thanksgiving reading list. Ages 4 and up.

sarah gives thanks cover imageSarah Gives Thanks, by Mike Allegra, illustrated by David Gardner
published in 2012 by Albert Whitman & Company

Sarah Josepha Hale is largely responsible for you having an official Thanksgiving Day holiday. She’s also responsible for turning Mount Vernon into a National Historic Landmark, fighting against slavery, and writing a poem I bet every one of you knows by heart. If you haven’t met her yet, it’s high time you do!

In 1822, Sarah was a young widow and mother of five living in New Hampshire. She had hankered for education since she was a child, and not being allowed to attend college (why would women want to sarah gives thanks illustration david gardnerdo such a thing?!) she educated herself by reading and reading and reading some more. She was a published writer early in her married life and went on to become editor of the most widely read magazine in the country where she promoted her wonderfully feminist views. If you were around in the mid-1800s, you probably knew of Sarah.

So, when this ball-of-fire determined we should have a national holiday devoted to appreciating what we have and giving thanks for it, you just know she’s not going to quit until it’s in place. It took her thirty-six years to get that final signature from President Lincoln himself, but Sarah did it. She was thankful, and so am I!

I believe it was last year I reviewed another title about Sarah Hale which you can read here. Both of these are outstanding accounts of her life. This one is beautifully illustrated in rich watercolors with paper texture showing through. The compositions are engaging and lively, with a bit of humor, lovely period detail, and a gently aging Sarah. It’s a splendid book for ages 4 and up. 

thanksgiving at our house cover image2 001Thanksgiving At Our House, written and illustrated by Wendy Watson
published in 1991 by Clarion Books

This jolly family is about to celebrate Thanksgiving. The relatives are coming, so they’re busy scouring the house, ironing party clothes, making place cards, and roasting a huge turkey.thanksgiving at our house illustration wendy watson 001

As batches of visitors arrive, the day fills up with cousins everywhere,  pies and pies, singing grace, taking naps, and playing outdoors in the first snowflakes of the season.

Wendy Watson brings us a lighthearted, tradition-filled, large family holiday in this little charmer. Bits of story are interspersed with snippets of nursery rhyme and poems that twinkle-toe along as sweet and delicious as whipped cream on warm apple pie. Darling, warmhearted pictures with oodles to look at will put a smile on the face of young listeners, ages 3 and up.

hardscrabble harvest cover imageHard Scrabble Harvest, written and illustrated by Dahlov Ipcar
published in 1976 by Doubleday & Company

Awhile back I wrote a blog post about Dahlov Ipcar and her imaginative, colorful artwork and children’s books, such rich gifts to us arising from her creativity,  long life of connection with the land, and broad experimentation with line and color and artforms.

Here’s one more of her titles that’s perfect for sharing at Thanksgiving. Dahlov knew full well the hardscrabble work of farm life, yet she loved it just the same. Stemming from her hardscrabble harvest illustration dahlov ipcarexperiences working the Maine farmstead with her husband and sons, this joyful book begins with the long odds of the farmer, planting his garden, then desperately trying to protect his growing vegetables from all the critters licking their lips in anticipation! From crows to raccoons to rabbits, nibbling here, thieving there, it’s an uphill battle!

Still, as harvest-time comes, there are bushels of apples and tomatoes to haul in, wagonloads of pumpkins and squashes to store, jellies to put up, turkeys to fatten, and a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner to share with the relatives. 

Ipcar’s masterful compositions and patterning are compelling, energetic, full of life and joy and the richness of the earth. With brief, rhyming text and bold illustrations, it’s a timeless book for sharing with small persons ages 2 and older.