Books Related to Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage

By Victoria Jasztal on November 11, 2009

Thanksgiving has nearly arrived, and several classes are discussing their upcoming decadent feasts. Walls are adorned with various displays of students' writing explaining their gratitude for their families, friends, teachers, coaches and other mentors. Classes may be discussing opportunities for becoming involved in the community. Yet in the midst of all this, it is also a tremendous time to discuss the first Thanksgiving, early European colonies, and what Native Americans faced during that time of colonization. This time is a tremendous time to incorporate reading, writing and social studies. A New Look at Thanksgiving
By Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac

As Stacey, the Scholastic grades 6-8 advisor, mentioned in her post, this book is sensational and transports students back to the time of the first Thanksgiving. It is a historically accurate pictorial representation of the three-day harvest celebration in 1621, providing background on the Wampanoag tribe, colonization and the evolution of the Thanksgiving story. on the River: Jamestown 1607
By Elisa Carbone

In this riveting tale, 11-year old Samuel Collier is sent to an orphanage run by Reverent Hunt after attempting to steal a necklace that belonged to his deceased mother. He embarks on a journey to the New World, serving as a page to Captain John Smith. This tale focusing on Jamestown presents historical figures like Smith, Pocahontas and Powhatan. Samuel himself is fierce-tempered and strong-willed because he has had to rely on survival skills for quite some time. Spending time in an Indian village alters his original perceptions about natives. This book is one that keeps readers on the "edge of their seats." Birchbark House
By Louise Erdrich

This Newbery-award winning novel brings the reader back to 1847 telling the tale of  seven year-old Ojibwa girl, Omakayas. Omakayas is the only survivor of a smallpox epidemic on Spirit Island and was rescued by a woman named Tallow who welcomed her into her tribe on Madeline Island. The young girl finds out about her true heritage over the course of this story. This book has been compared to novels like Indian Captive and the Little House on the Prairie series. Journal of Jasper Jonathan Pierce: A Pilgrim Boy, Plymouth, 1620
By Ann Rinaldi

My students have enjoyed the My Name is America series over the years, so this is one of the books I most recommend. This book transports the reader to the year 1620 where indentured servant Jasper Jonathan Pierce sets sail with his mother and 100 others on the Mayflower, discovering freedom from the rules of King James. Historical figures like Governor Bradford, John Alden, Priscilla Mullens and Miles Standish are "brought to life" through this story. Reading a story formatted like a journal may very well encourage your students to keep a journal. Perhaps if you read this book with your students, they can write a fictional journal account of the first Thanksgiving. Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl
By Kate Waters

This book is another pictorial representation of a day in the life of young Sarah Morton, a child living in the early Plymouth Colony. This book parallels with Samuel Eaton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy. History Comic Books
By Joseph D’Agnese and Jack Silbert

This is one of my absolute favorite professional books from Scholastic. I often try to purchase graphic novels or comics that I can use in my classroom. The first comic, "Time Traveler Scooter McGinty in The Pilgrims of Plymouth," incorporates historical background, perspective and humor. The comic tells young learners what the Mayflower Compact was, the first American Indian the Pilgrims encountered, and famous pilgrims like William Bradford that contributed a great deal to their colony. This resource is one that you can use year-round because it also has comics for the Boston Tea Party, Benjamin Franklin, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, Henry Ford, space exploration, and more. That Teach American History
By Ken Sheldon

This is also another wonderful resource that comes with a CD with engaging songs that teach about events like the arrival of the European explorers and the American Revolution. Reproducible activity sheets and hands-on activities accompany the songs.

Here are a few other activities you can try in your classroom during this time of the year

  • Our class is starting a month-long unit called Do Unto Others where they will find ways in which they can help out in the community.
  • Scholastic also has an amazing online resource about the first Thanksgiving that is located here. Greatest of all, a live chat will be held with the Plimoth Plantation on Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. ET.  
  • Your students can also prepare a Thanksgiving-related lesson for a younger class at your school. My students will be visiting their Book Buddies in kindergarten a few times before the Thanksgiving holiday. I encourage you to read Scholastic advisors, Eric and Megan's entries for grades 1-2 and PK-K, for ideas that your students can use if they visit a younger class.
  • Students can also put on a play for families, other grades 3-5 students, or younger students. Your students can take anything they read about Thanksgiving and write a script.

I hope you are excited about the books and ideas I have mentioned this week. I would love to read comments about other fall or Thanksgiving-related books that you use in your classroom.


This book produced the following in my K classroom:

... Thanks for sharing, Matthew!! Kids certainly are humorous! - Victoria

Victoria, Great books! I actually use Tunes That Teach American History frequently in my own class to incorporate music into my Social Studies curriculum! It's wonderful!

I love the "Do Unto Others" concept! Our district is doing a study with Kent State University on place-based education, poverty (mainly via Ruby Payne), and brain-based learning. As a district leader for this new initiative, have been thinking almost obsessively about different ways to "give back to our community", which is basically the premise of place-based learning. How can we hit important state standards, engage our students, and give something useful back to our community?

Recently, I have settled on having the students create a children's book about the history of our school district. We just got a brand new school and consolidated two elementaries. So, I'm thinking about having the students interview community members to record oral histories and their perspectives. The plan is to trace our school district from the original eight one-room school houses into its current form. When finished, it will be given to the school library, local library, and the historical society. (I'm looking into securing primary sources like pictures or memoirs.) It's going to be a daunting task, but it is well worth it. Once it's organized, I think it's going to unfold relatively smoothly!

Of course, simpler ideas might include a school recycling project, intergrade mentorships, a clothing drive or used toy drive, adopting a park, creating a school garden, etc. One neighboring district has several classes engaged in saving the honeybees by working with beekeepers. There's really no limit to what the students can accomplish! Service projects, no matter how simplistic, are so engaging and meaningful. They teach civic responsibility and can be a useful vehicle to teach state standards in a creative way. It's also very brain-friendly!

As aforementioned! Great ideas! Thanks for sharing! Amanda

... Lovely ideas, Amanda! I know the "Do Unto Others" idea will be going into December, as I have technically not started it yet. Today, though, we started reading one of the novels I mentioned- Blood on the River. It's something they really haven't read about before, but I think it'll definitely build their schema for American history in fifth grade next year! - Victoria

Great ideas! I love Do Unto Others. What a great opportunity for your class!

... Thank you, Arleen! I still have to develop the idea for Do Unto Others more. I know it will definitely go into December. If you or anyone else has any ideas for how my class can reach out to others, I would love to hear them! Besides that, I may soon be reading Blood on the River to my class. Very, very interesting novel. - Victoria

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