Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving

Laurie Halse Anderson, Author

Matt Faulkner, Illustrator

Aladdin Paperbacks, 2005, Historical Fiction

Suitable for: Ages 5-10

Synopsis:  “You think you know everything about Thanksgiving, don’t you?…How the Native Americans saved the Pilgrims from starving…How the Pilgrims held a big feast to celebrate and say thank you…Well, listen up.  I have a news flash…  We Almost Lost…Thanksgiving!”    Laurie Halse Anderson brilliantly took a piece of little-known history, and wrote a humorous and relevant story for children.  Matt Faulkner’s illustrations are colorful , expressive, detailed and fun.

Activity:  Parents and teachers may want to create a gratitude tree at home or in the classroom.  This may be easily done by taking a tree branch, sticking it into a flower-pot and filling it with sand/soil.  Make template leaf patterns out of colored paper, cut them out, and ask children to write what they are grateful for on a leaf.  This could lead to a good discussion at home or in the classroom.

Sarah Josepha Buell Hale was born in 1788 and lived in Newport, New Hampshire.  She was the mother of five, a writer, the first female magazine editor, and the composer of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”  She was dignified, smart, stubborn, and outspoken.  Her power was her pen and she could be quite persuasive.  She loved Thanksgiving and wanted the entire country to celebrate it on the same day.  With her pen, she wrote magazine articles about making the fourth Thursday in November a national holiday.   She wrote letters to politicians, and to four presidents,  Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, to no avail.  With the Civil war raging, Sarah felt even more strongly a national day of Thanksgiving could help bring the country together.  Once again, she picked up her pen and wrote President Lincoln.  He said yes, and in 1863 President Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday.  It may have taken 38 years, but Sarah persevered and ultimately saved Thanksgiving.  Thank you, Sarah!

Sarah Hale proved to women that they could make a difference.   There is a very informative “Feast of Facts” at the end of the book that sheds more light on the traditions that grew up around Thanksgiving.  Sarah continued to write until 1877, and passed away in 1879, before her 90th birthday.

An excellent book for parents, teachers and librarians.  The author reminds us that children today have a great deal of influence.  “They can write to newspaper editors and government representatives, petition community leaders, and lobby Congress.  Pick up your pen.  Change the world.”  For additional information and resources visit Perfect Picture Books.

Copyright (c) 2011,  Patricia Howe Tilton, All Rights Reserved

Grandpa’s Tractor

In my last post I reviewed books about children learning the stories and traditions of their elders.  Now I want to share Grandpa’s Tractor, written by a  favorite illustrator and writer, Michael Garland.  His illustrations are bold, colorful, lively and spellbinding.   Each picture could stand alone.  As I sit and gaze at his first picture of Grandpa on his red tractor in a field at sunset, I can  feel the strange stickiness that clings to the grass as it cools at the end of the day, and hear the crickets begin their nightly song.   Children will delight in Grandpa’s story, and adults will reminisce about a time long ago.

Grandpa Joe and Timmy are on their way to visit the old farm where Grandpa Joe grew up.  Although the boarded-up farmhouse has been sold long ago, there was something special Grandpa Joe wanted to show Joey – a tractor that sat rusting in the tall weeds.   The site of the tractor floods Grandpa Joe with memories of when he was a boy and the tractor was new and bright red.   He takes Timmy on an imaginative journey about his life on the farm.  Grandpa remembers sitting on his dad’s lap and steering the tractor as they plowed the fields to plant corn or alfalfa to feed the cows.   Grandpa shows how the tractor is the center of farm life  as we pass through the seasons from planting, to harvesting, to hauling firewood for the winter and cutting down the perfect pine tree for Christmas.

Garland’s inspiration for Grandpa’s Tractor, came from an old rusty tractor near his home.  He passed the tractor for years before he began to imagine “a farmer getting off that tractor fifty years ago, and never getting back on.”   One day he knocked on the door of the farmhouse and met the farmer who had owned the tractor.  The farmer was happy to share the legacy of his tractor and life on the farm.

Garland’s books speak to children.  He is a versatile author and illustrator of many popular books including his latest Miss Smith Under the Ocean, Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook, Miss Smith and the Haunted Library,  The Fourth of July, Snow Day,  Christmas City, The Mouse Before Christmas,  King Puck,  Mystery Mansion and Last Night at the Zoo.   He has a new release coming out Sept. 1,  Oh, What a Christmas.

Passing the Music Down, and The First Music

Passing the Music Down, by Sarah Sullivan and illustrated by Barry Root for children 4-8 yrs.    This engaging book is about traditions and the friendship that forms between a  boy and an old-time fiddle player living in Appalachia.  This true story is inspired by the relationship of two musicians, Melvin Wine and Jake Krack and the bond they form despite their 75-year age difference.  Melvin, a coal minor, was born and raised in West Virginia, where his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been musicians.  They passed their music down through their families.   The author has done a lovely job of capturing the spirit and rhythm of Melvin and his music, through her lyrical text.  The illustrations are bold pastel paintings and capture the essence of the story.

A boy from Indiana travels with his fiddle all the way to the hills of Appalachia to hear the old man play his fiddle.  Eager to learn from the man, the boy asks him to “teach me all your tunes?”  For the boy wants to play just like the fiddler.   The fiddler listens to how the boy plays, and invites his parents to pay a visit at his farm where they  play some old-time tunes “older than the towns.”  The family moves nearby so the boy can study with the old man.  They settle deep inside the music creating a bond so strong that the man begins to share his stories with the boy.  The boy develops into a fine musician and travels with the old man playing at American Folk festivals.  As the boy grows into a man, he keeps his promise to the old man, to pass the music down.

The First Music, written by Dylan Pritchett and illustrated by Erin Bennett Banks for children 4-8 yrs.   Pritchett has had a fascination with African storytelling  for years.  He gives 200 storytelling performances a year.  He is the president of the National Association of Black Storytellers.  Prichett’s storytelling takes children to another level filled with rhythm and  sounds.   Again, another way to pass along the history and traditions.   Banks is a master in the use of texture in the oil paintings, which enhance this beautiful storytelling.

The animals living in the west African forest make many sounds.  There are Owls that hoot, hyenas that yelp, parrots that screech, monkeys that chitter and crocodiles that snort.  The frogs sit on their pads in silence.  Everyday more animals join in – an elephant, a crane, a buffalo, a lioness, a hawk — and they play and dance to the sounds each contributes.  The frogs listen and ponder.  Then one morning at day break, a new sound is heard in the forest — Reep-reep-ree!  The frogs have joined the chorus, and realize that when it comes to making music, everyone has something to offer.   And, that’s how every animal in the African forest helps keep the music alive.   This book is alive with sounds, so as you read the story to children, they too can become the chorus and experience the sounds.

My Selections:  I chose these book because in this busy world, our young people are not learning the traditions of their elders, whether it be music, family stories or history.   When meeting with author Greg Mortenson last fall, he commented that when he asked children in Pakistan and Afghanistan if they know their family stories, all their hands shot up.  When he asked the same questions of America students, only a few hands were raised.    So I mention these stories, hoping it will inspire you to share your family traditions and stories with your children.   Encourage them to talk with their grandparents and great-grandparents about their lives.