A list of books about giving thanks or Thanksgiving for young people.

Today’s modern Thanksgiving in America was built with a multigenerational foundation of customs and rituals involving the serving of specific dishes (cutting of the turkey, slicing of the ham, serving of the pie) with the occasional experimental foray like adding a new tradition to welcome an newly-gained family member (Italian sausage lasagna for the in-laws of the honeymooners). Here are some suggestions for young people who want to read about the Native Americans – their point of view, their history, their language, their art and poetry.

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My heart fills with happiness = Nijiikendam – a board book in Ojibwa

by Monique Gray Smith; illustrated by Julie Flett; translated into Anishinaabemowin by Angela Mesic and Margaret Noodin

Summary: The sun on your face. The smell of warm bannock baking in the oven. Holding the hand of someone you love. What fills your heart with happiness? This beautiful board book, with illustrations from celebrated artist Julie Flett, serves as a reminder for little ones and adults alike to reflect on and cherish the moments in life that bring us joy.

Recommendation: International speaker and award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote My Heart Fills with Happiness to support the wellness of Indigenous children and families, and to encourage young children to reflect on what makes them happy.

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We Are Grateful: otsaliheliga

by Traci Sorell

Summary: The Cherokee community is grateful for blessings and challenges that each season brings. This is modern Native American life as told by an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Recommendation: The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. Beginning in the fall with the new year and ending in summer, follow a full Cherokee year of celebrations and experiences. Written by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, this look at one group of Native Americans is appended with a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary, originally created by Sequoyah.

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Giving Thanks : a Native American Good Morning Message

by Chief Jake Swamp; illustrated by Erwin Printup, Jr.

Summary: Giving Thanks is a special children’s version of the Thanksgiving Address, a message of gratitude that originated with the Native people of upstate New York and Canada and that is still spoken at ceremonial gatherings held by the Iroquois, or Six Nations. Full color.

Recommendation: Chief Jake Swamp (Tekaronianeken) was a founder of the Tree of Peace Society, an international organization promoting peace and conservation. Chief Swamp delivered the Thanksgiving Address throughout the world, as well as at the United Nations. He was born on the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation in upstate New York, and lived in Hogansburg, NY where he worked as a cultural adviser for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne’s Child and Family Services. Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message was his first picture book. He passed away in October 2010.

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Thanku: Poems of Gratitude

edited by Miranda Paul

Summary: This anthology brings together a diverse group of poets who express gratitude for everything from a puppy to hot cocoa to the sky itself. Each writer uses a different poetic form, and readers will encounter a concrete poem, a sonnet, a pantoum, a sijo, and much more.

Recommendation: Contributors include Kimberly Blaeser, Sun Yung Shin, Naomi Shihab Nye, Charles Waters, Janice Scully, Jane Yolen, Traci Sorell, JaNay Brown-Wood, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Margarita Engle, and more. Stunning illustrations from Marlena Myles invite close examination, making this a collection to return to and savor again and again. A portion of the proceeds from this anthology will be donated to We Need Diverse Books.

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1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving

by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac with Plimoth Plantation ; photographs by Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson.

Summary: Countering the prevailing, traditional story of the first Thanksgiving, with its black-hatted, silver-buckled Pilgrims; blanket-clad, be-feathered Indians; cranberry sauce; pumpkin pie; and turkey, this lushly illustrated photo-essay presents a more measured, balanced, and historically accurate version of the three-day harvest celebration in 1621.

Recommendation: For anyone wishing to experience a more authentic original Thanksgiving.

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