November finds us at a moment of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the American holiday—a day to move beyond our differences and give thanks for our many national blessings, among them: the bounty of our land and seas, and the blessing of liberty so many came here to enjoy. It is an occasion to celebrate the ongoing goodness of the world we inhabit. For many children this is a natural and welcomed exercise—a time to reflect on what they like best about their lives. All too many children, however, grow up in homes and neighborhoods where goodness is not easily visible. To that end, literature can be an important vehicle of hope—an opportunity for us to lift their hearts and thoughts to much of what is positive in the world they will come to inherit. We make gratitude and wonder (an awe-filled appreciation for the beauty and bounty of the world around us) the focus of the November rotation in years 1 and 2.
In year 3, the rotation asks students to recall that true gratitude entails not only thankfulness, but also involves good stewardship of the gift received. One who is truly grateful for a gift from Grandmother, for example, does not misuse it, but takes extra care to honor both her and the gift she gave. During November of year 3, we take the time to reflect on how we can best express our gratitude by acting as good stewards for the many gifts given us in life. This is a time to reflect on using our natural resources responsibly and, in general, to respond lovingly to the gifts of others. In November, therefore, we ask students to focus on gratitude (the sentiment of thankfulness), wonder (the appreciation of beauty and bounty), and good stewardship (the thoughtful care) of the many gifts they have been given.
The following books are a small sampling of the books recommended in the resource guide.
(grade levels indicated in parentheses)
Veterans Day Recommendations can be found in the November Heroes section.
Harvest Home. Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Greg Shed. Harcourt, 2002 (Gratitude, K-2)
Written in verse with the rhythmic repetition of “bringing the harvest home,” this is simple and lyrical celebration of a bountiful fall harvest. The poetry recounts the work it took to make it happen, as well as the joys of reaping its rewards. Our guide is a young girl with honey colored hair and a yellow straw hat, who leads children through the work and joy of gathering in the harvest on a fall afternoon. Greg Shed works visual wonders with golden hues of wheat and sun-baked afternoons suffusing its pages.
Sarah Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl. Kate Waters Photographs by Russ Kendall. Scholastic, 1993. (K-2)
Sarah Morton was a real pilgrim child. This is a lovely day-in-the-life book photographed at the historical re-creation of Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts. There interpreters dress in costume, and behave as original inhabitants. Modeling thankfulness for the many (if modest) gifts in her life, Sarah Morton will be an inspiration to modern six year olds!
All the Places to Love. Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrated by Mike Wimmer. Harper Collins, 1994. (Gratitude, K-2)
On the day he was born, grandma held Eli up to the window “so that what I heard first was the wind. What I saw first were all the places to love: the valley, the river falling down over rocks, the hilltop where the blueberries grew.” In this beautiful tale, we follow Eli and his family through meadows, hayfields, rocks and rivers, as he learns about all the places to love and imagines sharing them with his newborn sister. With its lyrical phrasing and lush vistas, this book instills wonder and evokes gratitude for the world around us.
How Many Days to America? A Thanksgiving Story. Eve Bunting Illustrated by Beth Peck. Sandpiper, 1990. (K-3)
Seeking the blessings of liberty, eager immigrants from an unnamed Caribbean nation set sail on a perilous journey to the United States. They face heavy seas, a leaky vessel, thieves, sickness and hunger, but land in their new home on Thanksgiving Day, and find they have much to be thankful for indeed. Eve Bunting’s touching account is a classic immigrant story and resonates with all whose ancestors left a familiar world in search of a better life. Still in print after twenty years!
Thanksgiving in the White House. Gary Hines
Illustrated by Alexandra Wallner. Henry Holt, 2003. (K-3)
Abraham Lincoln not only established Thanksgiving as a national holiday, but also granted the first pardon to a Thanksgiving turkey. The hero of this story is Tad, Lincoln’s young son, who persuades his father to pardon Jack, the tame White House turkey. Light, humorous and fictionalized dialog, but based on fact. Wallner’s folk art-style drawings are charming.
The Stonecutter: An Indian Folktale. Patricia Newton
Putnam Juvenile, 1990. (Gratitude, K-3)
Set in ancient India, this folktale recounts the restlessness of a poor stonecutter, who wishes for a different life. Through the aegis of the Mountain Spirit, the stonecutter becomes a wealthy merchant, a king, the wind, and even the sun, but comes to realize that he is actually happiest as a humble stonecutter. At book’s end, he learns to be grateful for the life and gifts he has. Stunning pastels rendered in the tradition of Indian art, this is an excellent complement to the Core Knowledge grade 2, Ancient India unit.
Barn Savers. Linda Oatman High
Illustrated by Ted Lewin. Boyds Mills, 1999 (Gratitude, K-2)
A young boy and his father rise at dawn to dismantle an old barn before bulldozers can destroy it. They work steadily through the day, the boy stacking wood and the father carefully removing its timbers for new uses. Their stewardship of this simple treasure speaks of respect for the dignity of the structure, for past labors, and for the many new uses the old timbers may have. A particularly good complement for the second grade Core Virtues theme of stewardship of the earth and its resources.
The First Thanksgiving Feast. Joan Anderson
Photographed by George Ancona. Clarion, 1984. (Gratitude, 1-3)
Told in the first person by various “interpreters” (actors who recreate the lives of pilgrims) at Plymouth Plantation, this is the story of the First Thanksgiving. With photographs from historic Plymouth Plantation and text resonant of the times, we learn the story of the pilgrim’s first year and experience their gratitude, not just for their harvest, but for the grace of God in preserving them in this new land. The three-day celebration with the Wampanoag is beautifully captured.
Molly’s Pilgrim. Barbara Cohen
Illustrated by Daniel Mark Duffy. Harper Collins, 1998 (2-4)
Molly is a third grader, whose Jewish family has emigrated to the United States from Russia. She experiences the taunting of classmates, who tease her about her accent, the size of her eyes, and the shape of her nose. Then one day Molly is given a Thanksgiving assignment to make a pilgrim doll for a school diorama. The children are reminded that the Pilgrims left England for the freedom to practice their religion (just like Molly’s family). The doll Molly brings to class might be a source of more laughter and scorn, but classmates learn that “it takes all kinds of pilgrims to make Thanksgiving.” And Molly learns she has a lot to be thankful for. This is a heart-wrenching story: the pathos and taunting may make it too heavy for K-1, but second to fourth graders will deeply appreciate it.
The First Thanksgiving. Jean Craighead George
Illustrated by Thomas Locker. Puffin, 2001. (Gratitude, 2-5)
Quintessentially capable story teller, Jean Craighead George, brings her gift to this substantial retelling of the First Thanksgiving. She begins her lyrical narrative with the formation of Plymouth Rock at the end of the last Ice Age, describes the settlement of the Pawtuxet tribe thousands of years later, that tribe’s first encounter with Englishmen, the 1620 settlement and sufferings of the Mayflower pilgrims, their efforts and perseverance to survive and ultimately secure a good harvest. It is a book that inspires admiration for the efforts of the many peoples who have called Plymouth home, gratitude for blessings given, and respect/stewardship for the gifts of nature. Stunning illustrations by Locker accompany substantial text.
Heetunka’s Harvest: A Tale of the Plains Indians.
Jennifer Berry Jones, Illustrated by Shannon Keegan.
Roberts Rinehart, 1998. (Gratitude, K-5)
Plains Indian tale of a generous prairie mouse (Heetunka) who shares her carefully harvested beans and seeds with the Dakota people in exchange for gifts. An ungrateful woman takes all of Heetunka’s beans and learns the hard way that greed and ingratitude bring her only sorrow. Heetunka “will happily share with those who come to trade with humble and thankful hearts.”
The Tongue-Cut Sparrow. Katherine Paterson
Illustrated by Suekichi Akaba. Dutton, 1987. (Gratitude, 4-5)
A Japanese folktale in which a sparrow teaches a mean-spirited old woman to appreciate the many gifts in her life. The poor, selfish, greedy old woman cannot be content. In a fit of anger she cuts out the tongue of her husband’s only treasure—a sweetly singing sparrow. The sparrow teaches her a lesson in living contentedly and humbly with what she has.
John Muir, America’s Naturalist. by Thomas Locker.
(Fulcrum, 2003) (Gratitude,Wonder and Stewardship, 3-6)
Scottish born immigrant John Muir marveled at the beauty and bounty of the American West, where he studied nature, wrote about it, and worked to preserve it. Locker’s text and stunning illustrations showcase the Sierra Nevada region and the wonders of Yosemite. Muir insisted “No temple made with human hands can compare with Yosemite…the grandest of all special temples of nature.” He speculated on the Yosemite’s origin in glacial activity, pondered its botanical and geological features, and called for its preservation. This book inspires awe, wonder, and gratitude for both the gifts of nature and this industrious steward of natural wonders.
For an extensive bibliography of quality children's literature exemplifying these virtues, see the Core Virtues resource guide.