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Thanksgiving Stories

    Thanksgiving disasters usually take the form of dried-out turkey or not enough mashed potatoes.  But for the Peterkin family, proper Victorians all, Thanksgiving disaster strikes when their dinner simply disappears.  In “The Peterkins’ Thanksgiving,” Elizabeth Spurr has adapted one of Lucretia Hale’s charming stories about this hapless family into a picture book edition illustrated with cheerful whimsy by Wendy Anderson Halperin.

    Seated at the Thanksgiving table, the family signals to their cook, Amanda, that they are ready to be served.  But nothing happens. Amanda finally reveals that the dinner – turkey with oyster dressing, white and sweet potatoes, tomatoes and squash – is steaming gently on the dumbwaiter, which has gotten stuck between the basement kitchen and the first floor.

    Their good friend and problem-solver, the Lady from Philadelphia, is away for the holiday, so the family – Mr. and Mrs. Peterkin, Elizabeth Eliza, Agamemnon, and the Little Boys – must find their own solution.  They eventually track down the carpenter, who was so helpful about cutting a hole in the ceiling when their Christmas tree was too tall for the living room.  He untangles the dumbwaiter’s weight, pulls the cord, and the turkey and all the trimmings appear in the dining room.  A happy ending, and they didn’t even need the Lady from Philadelphia to help them this time.  Children five and up will enjoy all the funny details.

    Joseph Bruchac tells the story of the first Thanksgiving from the viewpoint of Squanto himself in “Squanto’s Journey.”  Greg Shed’s lush oil paintings in autumnal shades of russet and blue illuminate the story of a young Patuxet man who was tricked by the English into captivity and sent to Europe.  Resourceful and strong, Squanto made his way back across the ocean to his home only to discover that most of his family and friends had been killed by the “great sickness.”  By now he was fluent in English, and he famously became an intermediary between the Indians and the English, helping them to celebrate the first Thanksgiving.  As he says when he sees the bean plants entwined with the corn, “I think of how our two people have become entwined.” 

    Bruchac, like Squanto, is of Native American New England descent.  His picture book for older readers provides a fresh look at an old story, and one that is more historically accurate than most Thanksgiving books for young readers.  An author’s note and a glossary round out the story.

    How will the seven Bassett children cook Thanksgiving dinner when their parents are suddenly called away from their farm in the New Hampshire hills to take care of Grandma?  In Louisa May Alcott’s “An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving,” children will see what Thanksgiving was like in the early nineteenth century.  Shelling popcorn and hazelnuts, roasting a young pig, and slicing apples for applesauce, cider and pies keeps everyone busy, to say nothing of looking after the animals and keeping up the fires.  No matter that the cooks are not quite certain of Mother’s recipes!  Even if the pudding comes out hard as a rock, and the dressing tastes oddly of catnip, the pies are delicious. 

Alcott’s accurate rendering of nineteenth century speech patterns, complete with words like “chirk” and “fust,” make this a good read-aloud candidate.  Michael McCurdy’s wood engravings are as lively as Alcott’s storytelling while still imparting an old-fashioned look to the proceedings.