When explaining Thanksgiving to children, the concept can feel a little abstract. A focus on gratitude and family might not sound that thrilling to kids, and the true history of the holiday isn't exactly kid-friendly (or accurately represented in general). Below, I've rounded up 8 Thanksgiving children's books that aren't problematic, but manage to do a delightful job of capturing the true spirit of the holiday in all its warmth and coziness and kindness.
Little kids easily get Christmas (toystoystoys) and Halloween (M&Ms and costumes) and even 4th of July (hot dogs and sparklers). But Thanksgiving can lack a certain pizazz for kiddos. "You get to sit quietly at a card table and eat green beans while your great aunt whom you see once a year offers you dusty mints that smells like feet. Doesn't that sound fun?"
Thanksgiving can also be tricky for adults. Many of us may be dreading dealing with Uncle Phil's Nancy Pelosi jokes. Or with sister-in-law Kate's passive aggressive comments on our parenting style. Or with having to coax your 3-year-old into sitting politely at a table and not behaving like a feral raccoon in a cardigan.
Which is why I love these books so much. They're simple, gentle reminders for the young and old alike about why Thanksgiving is such a sweet and cozy holiday, and how part of its charm lies in its simplicity. And none of these books have any outdated, offensive imagery or terminology to worry about, as was so often the case with Thanksgiving children's books back in the day.
So maybe bring some of these reads with you, then plop down at the kids' table for a little story time as they dig into their second piece of pie. Or while they're throwing blobs of Cool Whip at the dog. Or screaming because cousin Tyler won't stop singing "Baby Shark." Just grab a moment, and I promise these touching little tales will help calm and soothe the stuffing-stuffed masses.
1. 'Thankful' by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Archie Preston
With simple, cheerful illustrations, this book is a charmer. Each page lists different things people are thankful for: "The poet is thankful for words that rhyme, the children for morning story time." It's gentle, entertaining, and gives an easy-to-grasp lesson on gratitude.
2. 'Thanks for Thanksgiving' by Julie Markes, illustrated by Doris Barrette
This book reminds us to appreciate the little things, be it colored leaves or tasty turkey. The illustrations in this are warm and striking, and drawn from the perspective of a child. They perfectly capture those tiny Thanksgiving moments, like a kid sneaking an extra pastry. Best of all, there's a little page at the back for children to write or draw what they're thankful for, making this a cute keepsake.
3. 'In November' by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Julie Kastner
Tying together themes from the natural world and our own world, this story paints a vivid portrait of the season. A sensory tale, it talks about what we see, hear, and feel this time of year. In November, animals scurry and prepare for the cold months ahead, while people gather to give thanks and share in a feast.
4. 'Porcupine's Pie' by Laura Renauld, illustrated by Jennie Poh
In this incredibly cute story, a porcupine is so excited to make her "famous cranberry pie" for Fall Feast Day, but then ends up sharing most of her ingredients with her woodland friends. At the end, the critters all join together to help one another, offering a really lovely message on generosity and friendship. (Also, there's a recipe for "Friendship Pie" at the end which sounds quite tasty.)
5. 'There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Turkey!' by Lucille Colandro, illustrated by Jared D. Lee
Maybe your kid has had his fill of lessons on gratitude and counting his blessings, and could simply use some laughs. If so, here's your answer: the old lady who swallowed a fly story as retold with Thanksgiving themes. Does she swallow a horn of plenty? Well, you'll just have to see now, won't you?
6. 'Thanksgiving in the Woods' by Phyllis Alsdurf, illustrated by Jenny Lovlie
It's hard to beat the coziness factor of this book. It tells the story of family and friends who meet in the woods every year for Thanksgiving, then sit around big wooden tables and bonfires, strumming acoustic guitars and sharing in a potluck feast. It's apparently based on a real family who does exactly that every year in upstate New York. I have to say, it sounds kind of awesome, and I'm wondering how one might go about securing an invitation?
7. 'Bad Kitty Does Not Like Thanksgiving' by Nick Bruel
I must admit, I have never been a big fan of the Bad Kitty series. I don't quite see the appeal of this very annoying cat. My son, however, loves these books and finds them high comedy, so I feel compelled to include this one, which of course includes Bad Kitty going to great lengths to sink her claws into some turkey.
8. 'Bear Says Thanks' by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman
A bear wants to have his friends over for a celebration, but realizes he has no food to offer. When friends start to drop by bearing pies and treats, bear is delighted, but feels bad he has nothing to share in return. His forest pals reassure him that it's his company they value, and that he doesn't need to offer them anything else. The illustrations in this are super cuddly, and I love the message that "giving" doesn't have to mean handing over something tangible... sometimes we can simply give of ourselves, and that is more than enough.