Wednesday, November 16, 2016

5 Best Kids Books on Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving: Reviews

What's the Truth about the Pilgrims?

When I was in school, I learned that the Pilgrims had come to the New World from England to flee persecution for practicing their Separatist religion. After a hard journey on a small ship called the Mayflower, they founded a colony at Plymouth (Plimoth) under the leadership of William Bradford and William Brewster.

The Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower on December 21, 1620, and made Plymouth Rock famous. No one who landed on that day, though,  wrote anything about it's being the place where they stepped into the New World.

5 Best Kids Books on Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving: Reviews

What I Learned about The First Thanksgiving in School

By the time the Pilgrims celebrated what we now call the First Thanksgiving, about half their number had died of sickness. Those who had survived had a great feast to thank God for all He had done to preserve them.  Native Americans gave them some corn and taught them how to plant it for an abundant crop. When they harvested their crops, they invited their Native American friends to share their feast as they thanked God for the food they had been able to grow. Both in school and in the Pilgrim journals, the Native Americans were called Indians. A friend of mine who knows a lot of Native Americans say they still don't mind being called Indians.


5 Best Kids Books on Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving: Reviews
Replica of Mayflower at Plimoth Plantation, photo edited from Pixabay


What Some Children Learn in School Now about the First Thanksgiving 

Unfortunately, my curriculum materials that are used in schools today aren't accessible as I write this, so I did some research online to see how the teaching about that first Thanksgiving has changed. The first thing we learn is that we shouldn't call it aThanksgiving feast at all since there was no such holiday back then. The purpose of the feast was to celebrate the harvest. Only in retrospect do we call this the First Thanksgiving.   

I did some of my research on the Plimoth Plantation website where children can research the holiday for themselves with interactive activities. Here are a couple of telling remarks from the Teacher's Guide, which has all the text from the activity pages. 

Fact or Myth?
Many people think that "history" and "the past" are the same thing. But they aren’t! The past is what actually happened. The past can never change. You would’ve have to have lived at the time to truly know about the past. History is how we think and write about the past. History is always changing. So events that occurred in 1621 (the past) will never change. But how we think about these events (history) has already changed a lot!

Culminating Activity
A few years ago, historians at Plimoth Plantation decided to look at the 1621 harvest celebration in a whole new way. They knew there was more to the story than the "Pilgrims" and "Indians" having dinner together. They decided to set aside what they thought they knew and look at the event with fresh eyes. They also realized that it was important to look at the events of 1621 from both the English and Wampanoag sides of the story. A lot of their research and new ideas about 1621 have gone into the creation of this web site.
5 Best Kids Books on Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving: Reviews
 Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA. Photo courtesy of Pixabay


The gist of this is that historians can't change history -- what actually happened, but they can change the way it's interpreted and taught to match whatever political view prevails in the education establishment. What I learned in school may not have been completely accurate, but neither is the current curriculum in many schools. We now live in a more secular and multicultural society that cares much more about the Native American culture than the culture and beliefs of the Pilgrims who lived at Plimoth Plantation.

The Truth about The Pilgrims


The truth is somewhere in the middle. We need to recognize how God brought Squanto to the Pilgrims, along with Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoag tribe. Squanto taught the colonists how to produce food in their new land and gave them some corn to plant.  Massasoit signed a treaty to live in peace with the Pilgrims, and that peace lasted for fifty years.

So, yes. The Native Americans did play a big role in the survival of the colony. But so did the faith the Pilgrims had in their God, whom they trusted daily to provide their needs. They saw the friendship of Squanto and Massasoit as part of God's providence, a way He was meeting their needs. A reading of the primary sources, such as Of Plimoth Plantation by William Bradford will make it clear what the Pilgrims believed. It is this faith element and God's providence that contemporary teaching often leaves out.



Children's Books about the Pilgrims that Strike the Right Balance

5 Best Kids Books on Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving: Reviews

I have chosen these five books as the best for teaching children about this period because most draw heavily from the primary sources. Some almost paraphrase parts of them in language children can understand.  Those sources are Of Plimoth Plantation, linked to above, and Mourt's Relation, a journal usually attributed to Gordon Winslow and William Bradford. Both were eyewitnesses to the beginnings of the Plimoth colony.

The First Thanksgiving Feast by Joan Anderson

5 Best Kids Books on Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving: Reviews
This book brings the Pilgrims and Native Americans to life through the black and white photos taken by George Ancona at Plimoth Plantation. It has a comfortable print size for its intended audience in grades 5-7. I believe many in lower grades would also be able to read this independently. 

The first part of the story is told through quotes from actual colonists.  The last part of the book is narration by the author drawn from the source material. The last page discusses the development of the tradition of the American Thanksgiving and is not actually part of the story.  This book is out of print. You can get it at Amazon or at eBay.  



Pilgrim Music for Thanksgiving

It is likely that when the Pilgrims gave thanks they sang a hymn. The one churches still sing today that the Pilgrims probably sang is from the Genevan Psalter that dates from 1562 and was used by the Separatists. We know that hymn today as "Old Hundredth," and the Doxology sung in many churches has the same tune.  This version is probably close to what the Pilgrims sang.



You can find this version at Amazon in digital form.
You can find the CD form at eBay. 

I think it ironic that I found the same hymn being sung (different arrangement) at Westminster Abbey in a service commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth. It shows much of the ceremony that the Separatists despised and separated themselves from. As the processional of the choirs and the Queen and other dignitaries came down the aisle, I was temporarily taken aback, wondering who that bewildered looking younger person in the black and white clip with the crown was. It took me a minute to realize it was a clip of  the Queen on her actual Coronation Day superimposed on the processional.



Pilgrim Voices: Our First Year in the New World  Edited by Connie and Peter Roop

5 Best Kids Books on Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving: Reviews
The clear, easy-to-read, double-spaced type tells the story of the Pilgrims’ first year in the New World as a series of diary entries written in the first person. The primary sources the authors drew from were Mourt’s Relation and Of Plymouth Plantation, sources authored by Edward Winslow and William Bradford. The editors modernized the language and changed Bradford’s journal from the third to the first person for unity of voice. About half of the 45 pages in this God-honoring history are gorgeous color paintings by Shelley Prichett, making this volume a feast for the eyes. The book, suitable for all ages past preschool, also contains a forward full of historical background, the text of the Mayflower Compact, a glossary, a bibliography, and an index.

This, too, is out of print. It is available in a Kindle edition or used at Amazon or used at eBay. Many of the used eBay copies have free shipping, and many of the Amazon cheap copies don't.


Three Young Pilgrims by Cheryl Harness

5 Best Kids Books on Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving: Reviews
This paperback book for children 5-10 is my personal favorite because of its visual appeal. It is also based on Bradford’s writings. The author and illustrator, Cheryl Harness, has created a panorama of paintings that captures the Pilgrim story.  It focuses on three young children, Mary, Remember, and Bartholomew Allerton.  Their mother, Mary, along with her new baby, died in 1621.

We first meet the children in the middle of the ocean on the Mayflower and follow their life in the colony. Young Mary Allerton grew up and died of old age in 1699.  She grew older than anyone else who came over on the Mayflower.  

If your children are visual learners, you’ve got to get this book. The first major painting is a map of the Atlantic Ocean showing the sailing Mayflower with geographical notes tracing the adventures of the Pilgrims from the time they fled England for Holland until they settled in Plymouth. The next double-page spread is a cross-section of the Mayflower showing the people and supplies crowded onto the various parts of the ship. 

The main story is illustrated by spectacular paintings showing life on the Mayflower and in Plymouth. Then there is a labeled picture-map of Plymouth Plantation with a timeline of earlier New World explorations along the bottom and an illustrated chart on the far right showing what else was going on in other parts of the world while the Pilgrims were having their adventures. The last pages in the book contain labeled pictures of all the Mayflower passengers, with one double-page spread allotted to the Saints, and another to the Strangers, and the difference between them is explained. The Indians get their own double-page spread which is bordered with small drawings of native plants, animals, and sea-life. The last page is a bibliography. This book is, fortunately still in print and available new and used at Amazon. You can also find it on eBay if you prefer to look there. 


The Pilgrims at Plymouth, a Landmark Book by Lucile Recht Penner

5 Best Kids Books on Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving: Reviews
The illustrations by S.D. Schindler are as appealing as those in Three Young Pilgrims.  These illustrations are on the edges of the pages, accompanied by small bold text to differentiate it from the larger text in the story.

The author tells the story of the Pilgrims' struggle to create a new home in the wilderness of a new land and how both the settlement they founded and the principles they established helped to shape the new American nation. Each double-page spread deals with one aspect of the Pilgrims' adventure, beginning on the Mayflower and ending with the Thanksgiving feast. This book states that Mary Allerton Cushman died in 1704, which contradicts most other sources I've seen. The text of this book was copyrighted in 1996 before the term "Indians" was deemed politically incorrect. 

The Pilgrims at Plymouth offers more details about daily life in the Plymouth colony than the previously mentioned books, including an accurate portrayal of the Pilgrims' faith. It also goes into more detail on the life of Squanto. Both this book and Three Young Pilgrims are good supplements to the more journal-like books first reviewed. They answer more of the questions about details left out of the other books.  44 pages. For grades 2 and up. This book is out of print but is available from both Amazon and eBay.


Daily Life in the Pilgrim Colony 1636 by Paul Erickson

5 Best Kids Books on Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving: Reviews
The author and photographers who created this book paint a captivating portrait of an early Pilgrim settlement. Many of the photos come from Plimoth Plantation, where history is still alive. I have been there and watched as my rebellious daughter was called out by one of the adult male enacters who heard her talking back to my husband. The "Pilgrim" told her she'd never get a husband with that rebellious attitude. She was in total shock. No one she knew would have dared tell her such a thing.
In the book, Paul Erickson describes the duties of each family member -- even the children -- and their roles in the community as a whole. We watch people at work through the seasons as the women tend to the home, animals, and garden. The men do the heavy work in the fields and handle trading and defense. Children help their parents with their daily chores. We watch the activities of the family as they start their day, get dressed, work, and get ready for bed at night. 

Education was also handled at home. Parents taught their children to read so they would be able to read the Bible, which was considered the most important book. Children also learned practical skills as they helped their parents cook, farm, garden, and make clothing from the wool to the finished garments. 

The book explains how the government worked and how the colony was founded and organized. The author also describes a typical worship service in the meeting house. That couple of paragraphs is about all we learn about the religion of the colonists, except the importance of the Bible in their lives. We also learn a bit about health and how illnesses were treated. 

The author describes celebrations and special occasions. He gives three paragraphs total to what we now call the first Thanksgiving. Part of that is a recipe for the traditional Plymouth Succotash.  

Unlike the books I reviewed above, this one doesn't  tell us a story or let the characters themselves say much. It has a more academic tone, showing and telling us about life in the colony. The last page analyzes the Pilgrims' place in history. Readers will learn what happened but probably won't relate to it as much as they will by identifying with the characters in the other books.  Vivid full-color photos and drawings along with smaller black and white drawings show us a family and the items they would have used in their home and in the fields in Plymouth. 

The book also features a timeline of the colony from 1455, when Guttenberg finished printing the Bible to 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday. There is a reproduction of a 1635 map of the world so students can compare it to maps depicting today's world. We also see a color diagram map of Plymouth Colony. A glossary and index are also included. This book is the most secular in tone of all the ones I review here. Like most of the others, it is out of print. It is available at Amazon or eBay. For ages nine and up. 48 pages. 

5 Best Kids Books on Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving: Reviews
Please share me on Pinterest




Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article.

8 comments:

  1. Barbara, any teacher or parent who home schools their children will appreciate all the research you have done to present this group of books for children about the Pilgrims and the 'first' Thanksgiving. I really enjoyed your introduction to these books as much as the book reviews themselves. Nicely done.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I own all these books and many were suggested by people I respect who love history. That's why I sold them for so many years, and they sold well, especially Three young Pilgrims. It sold itself as soon as people opened it.

      Delete
  2. You reminded me as I was reading Barb that one of the reasons I didn't enjoy some of my American History classes in high school was because our high school history teacher taught opinion, not facts. I've never been fond of interpretative history. While just laying out the facts may be boring to some, I would rather be "taught" only the known truth and let my own mind interpret the facts. That having been said, I do very much enjoy fiction, I just think it should be labeled as fiction or embellished history. I think I, myself, would very much enjoy reading the books you have featured here even though they are recommended for children.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We taught our own children history in two ways. We read and discussed books like these together and we visited a lot of living history museums, inluding Plimoth Plantation when we were in Massachusetts. As the children got older, we chose books more appropriate for their ages. We didn't use the textbooks. For one study on the Westward Movement we chose a novel and a historical account on the same interest level about the Sager children whose parents died on the Oregoon trail. Then we discussed the differences. This prepared our children for our actual visit to the Oregon Trail later in the year and we followed it closely where we could on our return trip from Massachusetts. The books had put the places in context before we saw them. Unfortunately, Jason had died and Sarah was gone before we finally got to the Whitman Memorial in Walla Walla on the way home from one of our bookselling trips.

      Delete
  3. Wow this is a great review of 5 books that all Americans should be reading. To bad so many are out of print. I like your quote on history and the past. I could not agree more with that senitment. I learned a lot from this review, thank you Barbara for doing such an amazing job!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading all the way through. Many of the books are out of print because they don't fit today's view of history. It's up to parents and grandparents to help their children see what's true.

      Delete
  4. Thanks for the reviews. I always like to hear others' opinions of books.
    Bloggers Pit Stop

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is a terrific account and explanation of Thanksgiving. I loved stepping back in time to get a better understanding of life during this time. It's one of my fave things to do - understand the past, ancestry research, trying to put myself in the shoes of those who came before us. We just found out that a family farm in our ancestry is deemed historical by Canada (165 years old). We had a family re-union in ancestry for that part of the family, and I was able to visit and spend time with multiple relatives through generations. Truly, I have such an appreciation for the lives that came before us, and in many ways, defined us.

    ReplyDelete