Every year, I hear from many of you that you feel like you’ve got TONS of wonderful Halloween and Christmas books, but your Thanksgiving collections leave much to be desired… So, here goes— my huge list of Thanksgiving recommendations (specific to the Thanksgiving holiday — be sure to check out this post for wonderful books about gratitude and thankfulness that comprises most of our November reading and influences most of our conversations about the Thanksgiving holiday). You’ll find it broken down by general category, and age recommendations are given as well, so hopefully you can find something to read with your children this month!
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The First Thanksgiving:
1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Katherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac — This one is long, but chock full of information about Wampanoag people who lived around Plimoth Plantation when the Pilgrims landed. If you’re looking to read different perspectives about that first Thanksgiving, or to help accurately expand on what your children are learning about Pilgrims, give bits and pieces of this book a try over the next few weeks. Ages 8-12.
Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet — We read this each year on Thanksgiving morning before we turn on the Thanksgiving Day Parade. The illustrations are bright and colorful, the information engaging and interesting, and really, what kids don’t want to learn about puppets and those huge balloons? Sweet includes an Author’s Note about Tony Sarg, as well as an extensive biography and resource list for those wanting to learn more. Ages 4-8, but the text is dense and informative, so you can go older, too.
All About Turkeys by Jim Arnosky — Well… this is a stretch to call it a biography, but it is chock full of factual information about turkeys! If you’re hoping to go beyond handprint turkeys and turkey headbands with brightly colored tails, then you might want to check this one out and read it with your children. I know I, for one, can never remember what to call the red part on a turkey’s neck… But now I can reference this book each November when I inevitably forget again! Ages 4-10.
Milly and the Macy’s Parade by Shana Corey, illustrated by Brett Helquist — Okay, so this isn’t quite a biography, as Milly is purely fictional. But, it does give factual information about how the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade came to be! Pair this with Balloons Over Broadway and you’ve got a great little reading session. Corey includes an Author’s Note with info about which parts of the story are real and which are made up, as long as tidbits about the history of the parade since the first one in 1924. Ages 5-8.
Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Matt Faulkner — Though we all learn about the first Thanksgiving almost 400 years ago, did you know it wasn’t a national holiday until 1863? This one is funny, inspiring, and highlights a determined woman who made a difference a long time ago. Anderson also includes 4 pages of historical information about Thanksgiving and about 1863. Ages 5-8.
Sarah Gives Thanks by Mike Allegra, illustrated by David Gardner — Another story about Sarah Hale, and this one’s just as good as Thank You, Sarah, so read one or read both, but you can’t go wrong! I love the focus on Sarah’s writing and how she uses her persuasive writing to effect change in her world (and, did you know we can also thank her for “Mary Had a Little Lamb”?). Allegra includes an Author’s Note with more information about Hale’s life and world. Ages 5-10.
Diverse Thanksgiving books:
Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal — Not explicitly a Thanksgiving book, this modern-day Native American story does indeed focus on family gathering around food. This intergenerational tale celebrates the American Indian tradition of making fry bread, first believed to have been made more than 150 years ago but still cooked and celebrated today. This book is both delightfully written AND illustrated, and is incredibly sweet, too. Be sure to check out the lengthy Author’s Note about fry bread, but maybe read this part on your own instead of with small children. Maillard also includes a recipe for Fry Bread. Ages 3-6.
Around the Table that Grandad Built by Melanie Heuiser Hill, illustrated by Jaime Kim — Written in “the house that Jack built” style, this book, though not explicity about Thanksgiving, is indeed a celebration of food, family, and the opportunity to give thanks and be grateful together. Young readers will recognize many traditional Thanksgiving foods, but will also appreciate the unique and special touches that this gathering of family and friends puts on their special meal. And, everyone will appreciate the blessing at the end: “For these hands we hold, for tasty good food, for family and friends, for grace that is given and love that is shared, we give thanks…” Ages 3-7.
Duck for Turkey Day by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Kathryn Mitter — Tuyet learns all about Thanksgiving turkeys in school and has her heart set on eating turkey, but is dismayed when she realizes her family is going to have duck on the big day. When she returns to school and shares about her family’s Thanksgiving feast, she worries she’ll be ridiculed for not eating turkey, but it turns out her classmates’ meals were just as diverse as hers! Jules gives us an interesting reminder that we all bring our own family cultures and traditions to this American holiday, and though each table may look different, we’re all celebrating family and gratitude around a meal. Ages 4-8.
The Thanksgiving Door by Debby Atwell — A new addition to my list in 2019, I’m not sure how I hadn’t read it before! Atwell tells a delightful story of a couple with a burned Thanksgiving dinner and a desire to eat good food together anyway. They stumble on a restaurant being used for a family dinner, but the matriarch of the family insists that the couple join them. “Thanksgiving door is like happy heart, opened up big and wide.” You’re going to love this one, and you’re going to want to open your own Thanksgiving door big and wide! Ages 4-8.
Rivka’s First Thanksgiving by Elsa Okon Rael, illustrated by Maryann Kovalski — Another immigrant story of Thanksgiving, Rael draws on her own childhood as a daughter of Jewish immigrants in New York. Though all of the adults around her (all new immigrants to America) insist that Thanksgiving is not for them, Rivka is wise beyond her years in realizing that Thanksgiving, a day to be grateful and thankful, is indeed a holiday for all Americans, immigrants or not. Ages 5-9.
We Gather Together: Celebrating the Harvest Season by Wendy Pfeffer, illustrated by Linda Bleck — Here in America, we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. But did you know that cultures all over the world celebrate the fall equinox and the fall harvest, often with large Thanksgiving-like feasts? Pfeffer also includes facts about the fall equinox and recommended reading for those who want to learn more. Ages 6-9.
Just for fun Thanksgiving books:
A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting — Mr. and Mrs. Moose are working hard to prepare their Thanksgiving feast for their friends, when Mrs. Moose decides she doesn’t want just a turkey decoration on her Thanksgiving table… No, she wants a real turkey at her Thanksgiving table! Mr. Moose sets out to make her dreams come true, only to find a terrified turkey convinced he knows what’s about to happen. I’m not going to give away the ending here, but this one has a delightful twist young readers (and maybe adults, too!) won’t see coming. Ages 3-6.
I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie by Alison Jackson, illustrated by Judith Byron Schachner — I think there is a riff on “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly…” for just about any theme you might want. And, this Thanksgiving one is terrific! It walks readers through the lady swallowing a little of just about everything at the Thanksgiving table, so could be a great way to introduce young audiences to some of the food they might see on their own Thanksgiving tables. Ages 3-7.
Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman — We absolutely love Karma Wilson’s Bear series, and though this one isn’t explicitly about a Thanksgiving dinner, the friends do gather together for a feast and express their gratitude for each other and the gifts they’ve received. My parents gave it to the girls for Thanksgiving in 2016, and it’ll remain a favorite for years to come. Ages 4-8, but you can absolutely go younger!
One is a Feast for Mouse by Judy Cox, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler — A friend recommended this to us a few years ago, adn it’s so fun! A mouse tries to take advantage of everyone’s post-turkey Thanksgiving naps to make his own feast, “but his eyes were bigger than his stomach.” My girls giggle through this one every single time! Ages 4-8.
In November by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Jill. Kastner — So, this one’s about the full month of November, not just Thanksgiving, but it’s beautifully illustrated and wonderfully written. The part about Thanksgiving is simple and profound and will hopefully leave you thinking more about your own November and your own Thanksgiving. “In November, people are good to each other.” Thank you, Cynthia Rylant, for how you remind us what’s important! You can read my full review here. Ages 4-8.
Thanksgiving in the Woods by Phyllis Alsdurf, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie — This would be delightful on its own, but it’s even better because it’s based on a true story! There is a group of relatives and friends in upstate New York that gathers together for an outdoor feast every Thanksgiving, regardless of the weather. How cool is that! The true story is fascinating and inspiring, for sure, but Alsdurf and Løvlie have done a terrific job of making this interesting and accessible for audiences of all ages. We added this to our home collection in 2020, and I’m so glad we own it! Ages 4-8.
Old-fashioned Thanksgiving books:
Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jill McElmurry — I just love Miller’s work (you’ve all seen me rave about Be Kind, as well as Remarkably You and When You Are Brave), and this is no exception. Written in practically perfect rhyme, MIller and McElmurry showcase a 19th-century American family preparing their Thanksgiving dinner. You’ll love cuddling up with little ones to read this warm story (especially because it’s narrated by a young child, so kids love seeing the preparation from his perspective). Ages 4-8.
An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott, illustrated by James Bernardin — Fans of Louisa May Alcott are going to love this one, as well as anyone who loves reading about days long gone. This is the story of Farmer Bassett, his wife, and their children. When the parents are abruptly called away on Thanksgiving morning, the children take it upon themselves to prepare Thanksgiving dinner on their own… You’ll find a recipe for Alcott’s Apple Slump at the back, in case you wanted to try a new Thanksgiving dessert this year. Ages 4-8.
A classic paired with a new twist:
Over the River and Through the Wood by Lydia Maria Child, illustrated by Matt Tavares (or any other illustrator’s take on the classic version) — You can find many, many illustrated versions of this classic song, but I love Matt Tavares’s illustrations in this one the most. Rich, colorful, and full of energy, they’re perfect matches for the words and tempo of the reading. Ages 3-7.
Over the River and Through the Wood by Lydia Maria Child, illustrated by David Catrow — For some reason this book is really hard to find, but we think it’s delightful! It’s a new twist on the old song, and you’re bound to giggle while you read it! Ages 4-8.
Need more reading this month, or are you hoping to foster gratitude and thanksgiving all year long? Check out this post for a list of our favorite books to foster thankfulness and gratitude year-round or this post about the gratitude books we’re reading for our Family Focus of gratitude and thankfulness in November!
What are your favorite Thanksgiving-specific books to read with your children?