Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thanksgiving Books, Part I

Here are some children’s books I have in my personal library collection that I recommend for reading at Thanksgiving time.

Written by Jonathan London
Paintings by Gregory Manchess
Candlewick, 2003

(The book cover posted here is from the paperback edition, which was published in 2005.)

Giving Thanks is not a picture book about the Thanksgiving holiday. I would describe it as more of a paean to nature than a story. It is a book about a boy who is learning a deep respect for and appreciation of the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it from his father.

The book is set on an autumn day. The boy and his father go off on a walk through meadows and the woods. The father gives thanks for all the gifts of nature they see on their daylong outing—including frogs and crickets singing down by the creek; the tiny beings with six or eight legs, weaving their tiny stories close to the earth; chanterelles, the wild mushrooms that smell like pumpkins; deer who have passed this way, their tracks like two fingers pressed in the dirt.

The book’s text is brief and oft times lyrical. The oil on canvas illustrations done by Manchess are gorgeous. Their broad, visible brushstrokes and blurred outlines bring to mind an impressionistic style of art. Shifting perspectives and close-ups keep this quiet book from becoming static.

Reading and discussing Giving Thanks with children might help to imbue them with an appreciation and respect for animals and other riches of nature that are so often taken for granted. It would be a fine book to read aloud in the classroom or to one’s own children before taking them on a nature walk. It’s also an excellent book about father-son bonding.

Note: Jonathan London dedicated this book to Joseph Bruchac, the award-winning Native American author and storyteller whose family founded the Ndakinna Education Center, a not-for-profit organization located on the Bruchac Nature Preserve in Greenfield Center, NY.

Written & illustrated by Diane Goode
HarperCollins, 2003

There isn’t much of a story in this book. It depicts a joyful—and hectic—celebration of Thanksgiving as experienced by one large, close family.

Grandma arises early on Thanksgiving morning to get the turkey into the oven. Then, through the course of the day, relatives arrive—along with their children, a baby carriage, an enormous “special” present, knitting needles and yarn, a violin—and even a dog. Family unites to help with dinner preparations, the moving of furniture, and setting of tables.

Goode’s text curves and swerves above and below her light-hearted, cartoon-style illustrations, which add happy and humorous details to the story. Much of this holiday extravaganza is told through her art. In the pictures, we see children hiding under a table, adults reading to children, some relatives dancing while one plays the piano, older family members sleeping on chairs and sofas after their huge turkey dinner, a young boy playing the violin while standing atop a table, a crying baby, and one of the youngsters pulling off an elder’s toupee.

Thanksgiving Is Here! is a celebration of families…of relatives of all ages gathering together for one of the special occasions of the year.

Written & illustrated by Debby Atwell
Houghton Mifflin (Walter Lorraine), 2003

I am quoting from the blurb printed on the back of the paperback edition of The Thanksgiving Door because it explains so succinctly and so well what this story is all about: “On Thanksgiving Day, an immigrant family opens their door to a couple of uninvited guests, sharing an evening of friendship, good food, and lots of dancing, and remembering that Thanksgiving is about opening one’s heart in welcome to the strangers who become friends and to the disappointments that bring unexpected joys.”

Ed and Ann are elderly. They’re home alone on Thanksgiving Day. When Ann realizes that their turkey has burned, she and Ed decide to see if the new restaurant down the street, which is owned by immigrants, is open for the holiday. Ed and Ann find the front door of the New World CafĂ© open. They step into the large dining room and see a long table that has been decorated and set for dinner. The restaurant is supposed to be closed for the holiday. The immigrant family is planning to have a big feast for relatives. The immigrants peer at Ed and Ann through windows in the kitchen door. They’re angry that intruders have made their way into the dining room. They’re sure their celebration will be ruined—and try to think of ways to scare the uninvited guests away.

But Grandmother feels differently. She believes they should share their meal and “turkey big as a doghouse” with the unexpected guests. The family decides that Grandmother is right. They add two more chairs to the table and welcome Ed and Ann to join them for dinner. And so, the members of an immigrant family open their hearts to an elderly couple and share not only food…but friendship--and their own special celebration of an American holiday in their adopted country.

It isn’t until the end of this heartwarming tale that readers find out that Grandmother had jammed a potato under the front door to keep it open. When Papa asks how it got there, Grandmother responds: “In old country Thanksgiving door is like happy heart, opened up big and wide.”

Atwell’s flat, folk-art-style illustrations are bright and colorful. They include lots of details and intricate patterns, which add visual interest. The intense warm colors used in the second half of the book echo the warm feelings of friendship and acceptance expressed in her story.

Although the ethnicity of the immigrant family is never stated in the text, Atwell provides plenty of visual clues for discerning readers in her illustrations: a painting of buildings with onion domes hanging on a dining room wall; the boxy, brown fur hats worn by the men; and family members performing what appears to be a Russian Cossack dance.

1 comment:

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