I just finished reading this little gem of a chapter book to my girls, and I wanted to hurry and get down a few thoughts about it before the busy-ness of the holiday descends upon us. Also, maybe some of you are still looking for good Thanksgiving stories to share in your family, and even though I’ve already shared a bunch, I just can’t not mention this one. It’s really good.
THE FIRST THANKSGIVING by Lena Barksdale is the story of a nine-year-old girl named Hannah who goes, for the first time, to visit her grandparents just before Thanksgiving. Traveling to visit her maternal relatives in Massachusetts from her home on the frontier of Maine takes some doing, but her mother is determined that she should hear her grandparents’ Thanksgiving story from their own lips. Hannah travels by boat and by wagon (even in the absence of real roads) until she reaches Gloucester, where she is greeted by her two girl cousins, Mercy and Content. The next day is Thanksgiving, and Hannah and her relatives set off by horseback for the grandparents’ homeplace. Hannah is surprised to see that not only are all her relations there, but also in attendance are many, many Indians (er, Native Americans). You see, Grandma and Grandpa were among the first settlers at Plymouth, and so their Thanksgiving story is a recounting of what really happened. Since that time, they have determined to invite the Natives to their celebration, just as they came to those first harvest feasts they shared together.
I’m never quite sure what to say about Thanksgiving since it is so shrouded in political-correctness, but this story seems as close to what happened (or what I’ve read that happened, since obviously I can’t know) as anything I’ve read. This is a charming little story, and of course, it doesn’t hurt at all that Lois Lenski illustrated it. I purchased a used copy of this book via Amazon, but I imagine it might still lurk in the hidden corners of some library shelves. It’s definitely worth a hunt if you’re looking for a short chapter book (only four chapters long!) that’s full of warmth and loveliness.
From Grandma’s lips:
“So it was that by the time our first harvest was ripe and gathered into the storing sheds that we had provided, we knew beyond any doubt that we had found a good comfortable land where we were free and could live our lives without anyone meddling. That’s the great thing, children, and don’t any of you forget it. God has given us freedom here to think and to worship as seems right to us. Remember to be upright in all your dealings with one another and with the Indians. Be true to God and honest and kind to your neighbor. That is what being free means, and if you forget it we shall suffer, and rightly so. Your grandpa’s been true and fine all his long life, and so must you children be.” (47)
That was good advice in 1942, when the book was written, and it’s still good advice today.