Tales of giving thanks


Judy Belanger


This is the time of year families pause to give thanks for what they have and for the opportunity to share a special holiday together. It is the time of year when school children study the pilgrims, native Americans and how they shared the big feast. This year, with the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, more children than usual are exploring that path. I hope this month’s selection of books will contribute to your activities.

MR. MURRY AND THUMBKIN, by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Ard Hoyt, Little, Brown and Co., $15.99; ages 4-8.

This is an updated version of the Aesop fable about the ant and the grasshopper. Mr. Murry lives in a teapot. He is a very busy little mouse, always working to keep his house clean and neat. He is also busy getting everything ready for the arrival of winter. One nice fall day, Thumbkin, another mouse, arrives and moves into an old pumpkin next door. Thumbkin seems to do nothing all day long, which gets Mr. Murry very worried. Mr. Murry makes a raspberry tort to share with his neighbor. They chat for awhile, but it soon becomes clear to Mr. Murry that Thumbkin has no intention of changing his ways. As winter approaches, the pumpkin goes through some dramatic changes. Now what will Thumbkin do? This would be a fun story to read after those Halloween pumpkins collapse and are ready to be tossed. Wilson writes the story in rhyme which makes it fun to read aloud. The pictures by Hoyt help us to enjoy the opposite personalities of these two mice. Little, Brown has an interesting Web site,, which includes activities pages from various books. Another book to enjoy during this season is Mousekin’s Golden House by Edna Miller.

THANKSGIVING ON PLYMOUTH PLANTATION, by Diane Stanley, illustrated by Holly Berry, HarperCollins, $15.99; ages 5-10.

Twins Liz and Lenny are going to visit their grandmother for Thanksgiving. A visit with her is very different because their grandmother puts on her magic hat and takes them traveling. This time, they head back to 1621 to visit the Plymouth Plantation. Everyone is preparing for the harvest and the twins’ help is welcome. The girls are surprised to learn that pilgrim children didn’t have to go to school since there is so much to be done. The twins learn what crops are planted and that a fish is placed in each hole when the corn was seeded to give the plant something to feed upon. Everyone is busy getting various kinds of foods ready. Some, eel, for example, are not to the liking of the twins. When the day of the harvest feast finally arrives, it feels like a big potluck dinner. Everyone is eating wherever space is available—at tables or on the ground. When dinner is over, it it is time for everyone to play. Stanley includes many interesting facts which help make learning about the history of this special occasion interesting. A page of notes at the back explains how the Thanksgiving holiday was established. On the end pages, Berry includes pictures comparing foods eaten then and now.

NELLIE’S PROMISE, by Valerie Tripp, illustrated by Dan Andreasen, American Girl, $6.95; ages 8 and up.

Girls who have been fans of the American Girl books will recognize Nellie as the friend of Samantha, an orphan. Nellie and her sisters, Bridget and Jenny, are orphans, too, and have been abandoned by their uncle. Samantha now lives with her Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia who want to adopt Nellie and her sisters. Nellie is afraid her uncle might come back to claim the girls. Nellie also becomes jealous of Samantha and the attention she is giving Bridget and Jenny.

The back of the book includes information about adoption and the orphan trains, used to transport loads of orphans from city to city. At each station, the children would get off the train and adults would choose a child—often to take home to work in the house or tend other children. Those who weren’t “adopted” got back on the train and traveled to the next station. To learn more about the orphan trains, check out Joan Lowrey Nixon’s series of books about a family of orphan train children who were adopted.

The American Girl series has been very popular for years. It is an interesting and fun way for children to learn history. I have Molly—her story was my childhood. Nellie is being introduced at this time because the made-for-TV movie, “Samantha: An American Girl Holiday,” will debut on Nov. 23 on the WB Network. At movie you can find out more about the movie and take a quiz about Samantha.

THE GREAT EXPEDITION OF LEWIS AND CLARK: By Private Ryan Reubin Field, Member of the Corps of Discovery, as recorded by Judith Edwards, pictures by Sally Wern Comport, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $17; ages 6-10. SACAGAWEA, by Lise Erdrich, artwork by Julie Buffalohead, Carolrhoda, $16.95; ages 8-11.

These two books tell a similar story about the members of the Corps of Discovery Expedition led by Lewis and Clark. The first book is written as a journal by Reubin Field, while the second is a biography of Sacagawea.

Sacagawea tells the story of the young Shoshone Indian who was kidnapped by the Hidatsa Indians when she was about 11. She later is given in marriage to a much older French Canadian fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau. He offers himself as guide and interpreter for the expedition, and brings along his pregnant young wife. Sacagawea’s background proves to be very helpful and she saves the expedition on several occasions. The author, Erdrich, is of Ojibway heritage and Buffalohead, of Ponca heritage, enhances the story with her impressionistic paintings. Included in the back of the book is a timeline and map of the expedition.

The Great Expedition of Lewis and Clark tells the story of brothers Reubin and Joseph. They are lured to join the expedition by the promised reward: a piece of land if and when they get home. Edwards tells the story as a journal of their travels. Along with the watercolor paintings, Comport includes small ink pictures as in the margin of a journal.

Both books will help children understand the expedition during this anniversary celebration. v

Judy Belanger is a retired elementary learning resource center teacher who lives with her husband in Addison. They have two grown children and four grandchildren. She continues to substitute in grades K-6 in the school where she taught.


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