Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday to showcase picture books that celebrate America's diverse population.
A primary feature of many of the children's Thanksgiving books on this list is that they demonstrate how immigrants have contributed to modern day traditions like Thanksgiving parades and the celebratory foods we eat. Most importantly, these multicultural picture books for kids demonstrate how Thanksgiving is not all about Pilgrims and football!
(Note: These titles were personally chosen by me because my family loves them. This post contains Amazon and Bookshop affiliate links that may earn commission. Bookshop also supports independent book stores.)
I am of the belief that we can share with our children the relevance of modern-day Thanksgiving traditions without perpetuating the highly flawed "happy myth" about its origins. Children are smart cookies and we honor them by making sure we discuss hard truths about the relationship between the "founding" of this country and the land's indigenous populations.
KEEPUNUMUK: WEEÂCHUMUN'S THANKSGIVING STORY by Danielle Greendeer (Mashpee Wampanoag), Anthony Perry (Chickasaw), and Alexis Bunten (Yu'pik and Unangan), illustrated by Garry Meeches (Anishinaabe)
If you read only one Thanksgiving book this year, let it be this one. A grandmother tells her two Wampanoag ("People of the First Light") grandchildren the story of Thanksgiving. Weeâchumun (the Wampanoag word for "corn," here represented as a translucent woman) is worried because she is afraid that she will not last another year. Despite a caution to be wary of the new comers, Weeâchumun asks the Wampanoag people to help the Pilgrims survive the winter by helping them plant the three sisters of corn, beans and squash. This is an important retelling of the Thanksgiving story that places the Wampanoag, and not the Pilgrims at the center of the narrative. The text includes notes, glossary, and a pronunciation guide. The book's official website has further resources. Ages 3 and up.
IF YOU LIVED DURING THE PLIMOUTH THANKSGIVING by Chris Newell (Passamaquoddy), illustrated by Winona Nelson (Leech Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa)
This book is so interesting and gives a more inclusive context for the encounters of English colonists and the Wampanoag, and the origins of the first Thanksgiving. The book looks a wide range of details surrounding the famed celebration, including how the Pilgrims made it to Plimoth, who was already living on the land, what everyone wore, how the Pilgrims and Wampanoag communicated and much, much more. The book may be aimed at children, but adults will also be well served by reading it. Chris Newell is a member of the Passamaquoddy Nation; Winona Nelson, is a member of the Leech Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa. Ages 6-106.
DUCK FOR TURKEY DAY by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Kathryn Mitter
Find it: Bookshop | Amazon
Tuyet is distressed that her Vietnamese family is having duck for Thanksgiving dinner! In school she learned that turkey is the traditional main course, but her mom and grandma insist that duck is tastier. Tuyet worries about what her friends and teacher will think! When she returns to school she discovers that her classmates all had different foods for dinner and it's not the feast but the company that makes the holiday special. I love the sweet moment when Tuyet puts her handmade pinecone craft on the table to ensure there is a turkey on the table!
BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY: THE TRUE STORY OF THE PUPPETEER OF MACY'S PARADE by Melissa Sweet
The signature spectacle of the Macy's Parade was actually spearheaded by British immigrant, Tony Sarg. Sweet's marvelous cut paper and mixed media collages illustrate the story of Sarg's life as a puppeteer, from his boyhood inspirations to his invention of the "upside-down marionettes" we've come to know and love as the iconic gigantic helium balloons in the Macy's Parade.
HOW MANY DAYS TO AMERICA? A THANKSGIVING STORY by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Beth Peck
A family flees a Caribbean island because of political prosecution. The journey in a small boat is hard and dangerous and when they reach America it is Thanksgiving day. It's a great book to spark discussions about diversity in America, why people flee their homes, and the freedom and security they hope to find.
GRACIAS, THE THANKSGIVING TURKEY by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
Just before Thanksgiving, Miguel's father, who is driving a truck across the country, sends the family a mysterious box with holes in it. Inside is a turkey! Miguel names his new "pet" Gracias, walks him around his urban neighborhood on a leash and worries about his intended fate, even as Gracias follows him to mass. Spanish words are sprinkled throughout the text and I love how Miguel's Puerto Rican family provides a wonderful example of familial support and love.
SQUANTO'S JOURNEY: THE STORY OF THE FIRST THANKSGIVING by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), illustrated by Greg Shed
Bruchac narrates the events of the first Thanksgiving story from Squanto's point of view. Squanto is kidnapped and taken as a slave to Spain; he eventually escapes with the help of Spanish Friars, and makes his way home. Back home he intercedes between his people and the English, demonstrating an optimistic faith that the two groups can live as friends. Ages 7 and up.
NOTE: Please also read and consider this review to decide if you want to share Squanto's Journey with your kids.
RIVKA'S FIRST THANKSGIVING by Elsa Okon Rael, illustrated by Maryann Kovalski
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
Rivka, the daughter of Polish Jewish immigrants, comes home from school, excited to tell her family about the holiday of Thanksgiving. Her mother tells her, "It sounds to me as though this is a party for Gentiles." Rivka insists that Thanksgiving is for everyone and takes her case to the Rabbi who initially agrees with her mother. Rivka starts a campaign to change the Rabbi's mind. She writes a letter and presents her case before a gathering of Rabbis, drawing insightful parallels between her Jewish family's experience and the experience of the Pilgrims.
THE THANKSGIVING DOOR by Debby Atwell
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
Ed and Ann have burned their dinner! They head out to a restaurant, sighing, "It won't be the same." When they get there they don't realize it's closed for a private party but the grandmother in the kitchen decides the family will welcome the interlopers because in the "old country" they do not turn away hungry people. Ed and Ann celebrate with the large, extended family, including lively dancing and at the end of the evening declare the best thing that happened was burning the dinner.
'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE THANKSGIVING by Dav Pilkey
Ok, so this Thanksgiving book is not exactly like the others on this list! It is an extremely silly and highly satisfying story about a diverse group of school children on a field trip to discover where their Thanksgiving turkey really comes from. When they find out, they smuggle the turkeys home and hilarity (and a vegetarian dinner) ensues.
MILLY AND THE MACY'S PARADE by Shana Corey, illustrated by Brett Helquist
Find it: Your Library
This is a fictional story based on a factual events surrounding the very first Macy's Parade. Milly is a Polish immigrant whose father works for Mr. Macy. Macy's employs legions of immigrants and when they all begin to get homesick and nostalgic for their homelands' holiday traditions, Millie convinces "the most important man in America" (aka Mr. Macy) to throw a giant party. And the parade is born. I love to think of the Macy's Parade as a party with roots based in celebrating the diversity of the people employed at the store -- not just as a way to advertise a retail giant.