4 Books that Explore the History of Thanksgiving

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

A Slice of History
Four Non-fiction Titles for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving ties us to those colonists who nearly four hundred years ago celebrated their first harvest in a small coastal community now known as Plymouth. The holiday also ties us to the Wampanoag Indians who were vital in helping the Pilgrims survive their new world.

Every year Americans prepare their feasts of thanksgiving, each celebration an echo of that very first feast in 1621. Here are four non-fiction books that give interesting perspectives about our national holiday, dispelling some of the more romantic myths and introducing some fascinating facts. This year along with your harvest feast, go ahead and have a slice of history too.

1621: A New Look At Thanksgiving written by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac, with photographs by Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson. In this photo essay, the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving feast is re-enacted at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Plymouth, MA.  Recorded by National Geographic photographers over three days, the book dispels the more romantic myths of pilgrims dressed in buckles and hats, and Indians wrapped in blankets. And instead gives “a new look,” a fresh perspective, to the beginning of our national holiday. Historically accurate, with full-color photos, the book brings this important piece of history to life, and in particular, gives voice to the Wampanoag Indians’ role in helping the pilgrims to survive. (Published by National Geographic Children’s Books, Washington, D.C., 2001. ISBN: 0-79-22702-74. 48 pages.)

Eating the Plates: A Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners (The pilgrims thought about food all the time. They had to!) written by Lucille Recht Penner with illustrations selected by author. This book explores the customs, manners, and eating habits of the Pilgrims, from their first years surviving in the wilderness to their later years as successful farmers and hunters. Filled with details about the Pilgrims’ struggle for survival and how smelly, messy, and perilous it was, the book portrays their daily life, while specifically focusing on food. The book also highlights how Pilgrim survival depended on the help of native peoples. Line drawings and photographs accent the information, and with chapter titles like “Bugs for Dinner” and “We All Scream for Pudding,” readers’ curiosities will be piqued.  Pilgrim menus and recipes included. (Published by Perfection Learning, Iowa 1997. ISBN: 0-75-69410-91. 117 pages.)

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message adapted by Chief Jake Swamp and illustrated by Erwin Printup, Jr. In this children’s version of the Iroquois Thanksgiving Address, readers can hear a message of gratitude that originated with the native peoples of New York and Canada. Traditionally spoken at the beginning of each day and at special ceremonies, the Thanksgiving Address expresses a reverence for nature and recognizes the unity among all living creatures. The message stretches the idea that there isn’t just one day of the year for giving thanks, but sees every day as an opportunity for thanksgiving. The message is also written out in the Mohawk language. Bold, color-block paintings provide a vibrant landscape for reading. (Published by Lee & Low Books, New York, 1995. ISBN: 1-88-00001-56. 24 pages.)

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, written by Laurie Halse Anderson and illustrated by Matt Faulkner, is told in an easy conversational style and illustrated with lush drawings full of detail and historic relevance.  The book introduces a little known heroine, Sarah Hale, (who is also responsible for penning “Mary Had A Little Lamb”), and her crusade to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Noticing how Thanksgiving was losing its importance in American traditions, Hale spent 38 years writing magazine articles and petitioning four different presidents until her perseverance and pen power finally won out. President Lincoln was persuaded by her argument that a national holiday would re-unite the union, and in 1863 he made it official. ”A Feast of Facts” outlines more information about Thanksgiving, Sarah Hale, and 1863 in history. (Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2002. ISBN: 0-68-98478-74. 40 pages.)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

Literary Guide for S.D. Nelson’s “Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story”

Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story
by S.D. Nelson

Written by S.D. Nelson, Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story opens readers’ eyes to life in a Native American village in the Dakotas. Based on Waheenee: An Indian Girl’s Story, told to an anthropologist by Buffalo Bird Girl herself, the story follows Buffalo Bird Girl through a full year’s worth of seasonal changes and activities, teaching readers about Hidatsa culture and the ways in which the seasons dictated their lives.

The book begins in the spring, with Buffalo Bird Girl helping to prepare fields and process meat from animals hunted by the village’s men. In the summer, readers learn about Buffalo Bird Girl’s responsibility to protect corn fields from animals, and her adventures berry picking and tuber-harvesting. During the fall, the entire village harvested crops and celebrated with a feast and dancing. In the winter, cold weather drove Buffalo Bird Girl’s village to migrate to a place with a milder climate, so as to be spared the harsh winter of the Dakotas.

The rich story teaches readers a wealth of information about Native American life and culture. The fact that the story’s protagonist is not an adult allows young readers to develop connections to her life more easily – they, too, can imagine doing seasonal tasks as chores to sustain their family and they, too, can relate to capturing rare free moments to play with friends. It is in connecting to Buffalo Bird Girl that readers will do most of their learning for, though they may find many similarities between their lives, the cultural divide between our lives today and that of Buffalo Bird Girl is deep and wide. Though here in western Massachusetts, the seasons dictate many of our activities, they do not force such drastic change upon our lives as they did upon the lives of members of Native American cultures. Read the rest of this entry »

New Book by Louise Erdrich Continues the Story of An Ojibwe Family

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Chickadee
New Book Continues the Story of An Ojibwe Family

open sesameIt is 1866. Chickadee and his twin brother, Makoons, have been together every day since they were born. Eight years old and living with their family in a birchbark house in the remote woods near Lake Superior, the brothers must endure a brutal separation when Chickadee is kidnapped by members of his own tribe and taken far from home.

The story, named for the main character, intertwines Chickadee’s escape from his captors and his family’s search for him as they journey from their north woods home to the strange flatland of the Great Plains.

Author, Louise Erdrich, weaves a beautifully written story that portrays a family’s love and their willingness to risk everything for each other against a backdrop of 19th century Ojibwe life.

Chickadee is the fourth book in The Birchbark House series, which will eventually chronicle 100 years in the life of Omakayas, Chickadee’s mother. The series started when Omakayas was just a young girl in The Birchbark House (Hyperion, 1999), a National Book Award finalist, and was followed by The Game of Silence (Harper Collins, 2005), winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and The Porcupine Year (Harper Collins, 2008). Chickadee starts a new branch of Omakayas’ story, with the focus of this book moving away from her and toward her son.

Steeped in detail and authenticity, with Ojibwe words knit into the narrative, and glossary and pronunciation guide in back to help readers navigate through the Ojibwe language, Chickadee displays Erdrich’s mastery of historical fiction. And her delicacy and sensitivity with issues of separation and loss, sadness and fear, joy and faith, are expressed in the characters’ struggles and triumphs.

And what a terrific cast of characters Erdrich has assembled. The multi-generational family members have very distinct personas, from the gentle Omakayas to the fearsome huntress Two Strike, and when woven together form rich and dynamic relationships.

Chickadee is an especially likable character. He is earnest and brave, and though he is at first disheartened with his namesake, a tiny bird without claws or teeth, Chickadee comes to know the truth of what his great-grandmother, Nokomis, assures him – that chickadees are small but powerful. The birds stay around all winter, can survive on the smallest seeds, take care of their families, and stick together like the Anishinabeg people.

And true to its nature, the tiny bird appears when Chickadee needs him, guiding the boy to food, protecting him from harm, and in a critical moment, even giving Chickadee a song. “I am only the chickadee/Yet small things have great power/I speak the truth,” resonates throughout the book, and gives Chickadee strength and courage when he needs it most. His simple song resonates off the page too, as young readers may relate to feeling small in a big world, or for this adult reader, being human in an immense universe. And yet, like Chickadee’s song insists, we have our own great power.

  • Chickadee by Louise Erdrich, published by Harper, New York, 2012.  196 pgs. ISBN: 978-0-06-057790-2

Louise Erdrich, is the best selling author of many acclaimed books for adults, including the 2012 National Book Award winner for The Round House, (Harper, 2012) and The Plague of Doves: A Novel (P.S.) (Harper Collins, 2008), a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

Two Western MA Exhibits Explore Native American Art & Culture

Native American Heritage Month Celebrated Across Western MA

On Saturday, November 10, and Sunday, November 11, 2012, Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield will celebrate Native American Heritage Month with four exceptional performances featuring music, stories, and dance. The festival will feature the rich history and culture of the Mohawk and Nipmuck tribes, conveyed through storytelling, music, and ritual. The performers are Jerry Thundercloud McDonald, Joseph Firecrow (pictured here), Larry Spotted Crow Mann, and Sandy Rhodes. For more information, visit www,berkshiremuseum.org or contact the Berkshire Museum at 413-443-7171. (Photo credit: David Carnes)

Fall is often a time when students learn about the history of America and the American Revolution – topics that lend themselves to studies of Native American history and culture, as well.  Students’ learning about Native American ways of life during Native American Heritage Month can be supplemented by a visit to a gallery show of Native American artwork – either at Westfield State University or the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield!

The Berkshire Museum’s exhibit, Rethink! Native American Art, features a wide variety of work from Native American groups nationwide, and is open through January 6th.  Along with the exhibit, the museum is hosting a series of community events featuring Native American music, dance, storytelling, and more.  On November 10th and 11th, the museum will host the Chief Konkapot Festival of Native American culture, offering visitors a chance to see a variety of performances showcasing the traditions of numerous nations from across North America, including:

  • Saturday, November 10th at 1pm – Jerry Thundercloud McDonald presents Mohawk music, stories, and dance. McDonald will also speak on the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s influence on the formation of the U.S. Constitution. ($$)
  • Saturday, November 10th at 7pm – Joseph Firecrow of the Northern Cheyenne, a Grammy-nominated Northern Cheyenne musician and master of the traditional Native American flute, will perform a special concert.  ($$)
  • Sunday, November 11th at 1pm – Larry Spotted Crow Mann, Nipmuck poet and author of Tales from the Whispering Basket, presents Nipmuck stories, songs, and drum with the Quabbin Lake Singers. ($$)
  • Sunday, November 11th at 3pm – Sandy Rhodes will be presenting contemporary pow wow culture, dance, and regalia. ($$)

Follow the festival at the museum, the Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield will be hosting a free performance by Joseph Firecrow on Monday, November 12th at 12:15pm, sponsored by the BCC Committee for Diversity.

Westfield State University’s Arno Maris Gallery will host an exhibit of Native American Culture and Tradition through Saturday, December 8th, 2012. The exhibit will feature works from Native American artists Lenny Novak and Dan Shears.

Another opportunity to see contemporary Native American art in Western MA will be at the Arno Maris Gallery in Westfield State’s Ely Campus Center in Hampden County.  The gallery is hosting an exhibit of unique, handcrafted dreamcatchers – made in a traditional style that only five people are trained in!  Students can learn about the intricate nature of dreamcatcher making, as well as the significance of the pieces in Native American culture.  The exhibit runs through December 8th, and admission to the gallery is free.

Both exhibits offer unique learning opportunities, and showcase artwork that is not often accessible.  Each show provides an in-depth look at Native American traditions, and highlights the important role that artistic expression plays in Native American culture.

Celebrating First Nations People this Weekend in Western MA

Native American Pow Wow this Weekend
in Lanesborough, MA

Modern pow wows invite both Native and non-Native American people together to honor American Indian culture and history. Authentic dancing, drumming and tribal regalia will be presented at the 7th Annual Rock, Rattle & Drum Pow Wow this weekend in Lanesborough, MA.

Celebrate Native American culture in the Berkshires this weekend at the 7th Annual Rock, Rattle and Drum Pow Wow! The celebration takes place on August 11th and 12th at Wirtes Farm, located at the base of Mt. Greylock in Lanesborough, and will feature music, dance, food, art, crafts, storytelling, and more from Native Americans throughout the northeast. Sample traditional foods like Indian fry bread, buffalo and  corn soup while watching a drum circle, or peruse a wide variety of Native American arts and crafts, such as native bead and quill work.

Pow Wows are celebrations that bring our First Nations People together to honor their traditional culture and history while connecting with their larger community.  The Rock, Rattle and Drum Pow Wow is open to both native and non-native families. Learning opportunities will be plentiful at the Pow Wow – children of all ages will be able to learn firsthand about Native American culture, and can supplement studies of local history, American history, and the natural history of New England!

The event even includes an intertribal group dance that non-natives are invited to join in on – learn the dance as a family, and come away having had a meaningful cultural learning experience. Special guests at the Pow Wow include Grammy award winner Joseph FireCrow and”Lod of the Strings” Arvel Bird. For more information, visit healingwinds.net or call 413-443-2481. Rain location:  Mt. Greylock High School (Route 7) Williamstown, MA. ($)

[Photo credit: (ccl) Andrew Brannan]

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