by Wendy Lawrence
Thanksgiving is coming up and I have the bestest ever picture book for that! I just checked it out of the library and now plan to buy a copy. I’m excited to have a great Thanksgiving story to share with my children; one that combines history with a gripping story, one that teaches about women’s rights without preaching, and one that will help add a whole helping of meaning to our Thanksgiving table. This is a fun story that will be enjoyed by the little ones but with enough history and real issues to be liked by kids much older than the usual picture book audience. Heck, I liked it so much I read it twice right away.
Sarah Gives Thanks is a true and well-researched story by Mike Allegra. A widow, Sarah works in a hat shop, even though she has a particular disdain for impractical fashion. Even though women didn’t attend college in her time, she gets an education with her older brother’s textbooks from Dartmouth. You get a sense of her personality when she convinces him to help her study on his vacation by saying “I am not going to go away, Horatio. Therefore you might as well do as I ask.” Even though this is the early 1800s when women had few professional options, Sarah publishes a few poems in a magazine and later becomes a widely read author. She and her family are invited to move to Boston so she can become a magazine editor (although she insisted on being called an editress). She quickly becomes an influential figure in America, and her opinions matter.
Throughout all this time, Sarah has been celebrating Thanksgiving, not yet a national holiday, and telling everyone who would listen (which was getting to be a lot of people) that everyone should celebrate it. She wasn’t as concerned with the holiday’s roots as much as she was concerned with the meaning of the holiday–that we all have something to be thankful for–and this is someone who had already lost two husbands. Sarah wrote to president after president. (“I am not going to go away,” Sarah said. “Therefore the president might as well do as I ask.”) but Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan all ignore her. It wasn’t until Lincoln got her letter in the middle of the Civil War that he agreed that Thanksgiving was exactly what the nation needed.
It’s a phenomenal story that is told much better than my short synopsis and with really great illustrations that bring the characters to life. An author’s note with more information about this amazing woman is included at the end. I love that this is less about the Native Americans and the Pilgrims and more about being thankful, which, given the history of those two groups after their big feast, I think is the message most families want to pass along today. Now when I make my own Thanksgiving about saying our thanks, I know I’m not even rewriting history–I’m just following in the footsteps of the great woman who made this holiday official!
I hope this book makes its way onto your tables and its message–about being who you can be despite prejudices and being thankful despite heavy loss–reaches your children’s hearts and minds. It’s a good one.