• Allison Lee Pillinger Choi

Thanksgiving Books Celebrating History of the Holiday

In addition to preparing dinner, feeling thankful, and giving back, we’ve got learning history on our Thanksgiving to-do list. Primerrily knows there are few better ways “to do” learning than through story, so at the top of our storybook list is The Story of the Pilgrims:

“Learn the story of the Pilgrims in this picture book that's a perfect fall read-a-long! From the dangerous voyage across the Atlantic to the first harsh winter to the delicious Thanksgiving feast, all the excitement and wonder of the Pilgrims' first year in America is captured in this vivid retelling for the youngest historians. Colorful and appealing illustrations bring history to life!”


From the King of England to the Mayflower, from uncertain challenges to unexpected friendship, to learned skills and merged cultures, we love the range covered in this pint-sized book. It touches on broad themes and values such as religious freedom, taking risks, friendship, and the idea that things aren’t always what they seem. For example, in spite of the Pilgrims hearing that the people native to this “new” land were not friendly, they actually were friendly! Beyond that, because of the support from the Natives, the Pilgrims were able to survive their first winter -- and the winters thereafter -- in this “New World.” Samoset and Squanto are specifically featured historical figures in this beautiful story.


The story goes into just enough detail for curious kids, but maintains a level that’s digestible for growing minds. It also maintains the focus on the positive accounts and aspects, rather than the distraught dynamics between Pilgrim settlers and Native Americans. Like the story of Christopher Columbus, who 128 years earlier landed a bit south of the Pilgrims, we save the tragic accounts and complexities for a developmentally-appropriate time.


Written by Katharine Ross and illustrated by Carolyn Kroll, this historical-based, kid-friendly Thanksgiving story credits the Plimoth Plantation Museum for its research. For a deeper dive into the research behind The Story of the Pilgrims, a tour of Plimouth Plantation is a fascinating educational experience. Understandably, if an outdoor visit isn’t in the cards for your family this year, take a look at the Museum’s variety of virtual tours relating to the history of the holiday.


Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, including Friday’s Native American Heritage Day, we also find an interesting opportunity to explain the story of why Native Americans are often referred to as “Indians” or “American Indians,” as the description remains in many books and present-day tribes:


Pull up a world map and ask your kids to point to America. If you’re looking at a physical map, ask them to place a sticker over America (because any activity becomes more fun with stickers!). Explain how Native Americans were living here way before the United States of America was founded. This is why they knew how to farm and survive the land, and taught these skills to the Pilgrims. Next, identify Spain and India (with stickers, of course), from where Christopher Columbus departed over a hundred years earlier, and to where he intended to travel. Finally, trace his crew’s westward journey to show how sailing from Spain to India was cut short because of the "unknown continent" of land in between. Explain that Columbus landed here and mistakenly thought he was in India, so he referred to those he met as “Indians” in his reports. While “Indians” in this context was a misnomer, the name stuck with both European travelers (like the Pilgrims) and many Native Americans (like the National Congress of American Indians) through today. Incorporating this bit of world geography and history with present-day familiarities is an engaging way to tie otherwise disparate concepts in kids’ minds.


As you discover your best ways to tie together the wonderful sentiments of Thanksgiving for your kids, we hope these storybooks help also incorporate the holiday’s history and meaning. For some more Thanksgiving favorites from our Bookshelf, take a look at:


- Three Young Pilgrims by Cheryl Harness

An older kid version of The Story of the Pilgrims (featured above), with more detailed accounts and illustrations about the story of Thanksgiving. As noted in the introduction, the purpose of this book is to tell part of the story of a Pilgrim family. This is not meant to be a scholarly work on the Pilgrims. Rather it is an illustrated primer, based on research from the Plimoth Plantation Museum in Massachusetts, that may lead the reader to learn more.


- A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving by Charles Schulz

A meaningful book from a classic series, we love learning about Thanksgiving from the Peanuts crew: “Thanksgiving is a very important holiday.” [Linus] explains, “Our was the first

country in the world to make a national holiday to give thanks.”


- Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving by Kimberly + James Dean

A meaningful book from a “new classic” series, the moral of this edition is all about giving thanks on the Thanksgiving holiday. We love the interactive lift-the-flap elements that keep little minds interested in all the historical highlights of the holiday!


On this especially special Thanksgiving holiday -- on this 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival -- the Primerrily community gives thanks to you and your family for keeping the American Thanksgiving tradition full of meaning and full of gratitude!