Review: Giving Thanks

“To be a human being is an honor, and we offer thanksgiving for all the gifts of life.” page 4

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp, illustrate by Erwin Printup, Jr.
My edition Scholastic, New York, 1997, originally published by Lee and Low, 1995.
Picture book, 24 pages.
Lexile:  AD520L  ( What does AD mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  3.3 (worth 0.5 points)  .
NOTE: There is another book by the same title but subtitled “The 1621 Harvest Feast.”

A children’s book adaptation of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address by Mohawk Chief Jake Swamp.

Giving Thanks Swamp Cover resized

This is one of those books that gives the lie to publishers who say they can’t find qualified Native authors and illustrators.  Already back in 1995, Lee and Low had Cayuga/Tuscarora painter Erwin Printup, who not only has a degree in fine arts, but also provides gorgeous, culturally appropriate illustrations for this title.  In fact, we were so taken with this book that I went searching for other children’s books illustrated by Printup.  But it seems that he was also underemployed, because all I found was a few anthologies he was included in.

While this is a handy alternative for librarians to give parents and teachers who insist on Thanksgiving books, truly this book could be read at any time of year.  As Swamp explains in his can’t-miss author’s note, not only is the Thanksgiving Address read at every gathering of the Six Nations, it’s also taught to children as a morning thank you.

Of course, as you would guess there are many versions of the Thanksgiving Address floating around the internet.  Here (PDF) is a version from the Smithsonian, but truly it’s worth getting a copy of this beautiful book.

Giving Thanks Swamp p8-9 resized
Pages 8 and 9 of Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message.

Printup’s illustrations are simply stunning.  Any one of them could be an artwork or poster, so it was difficult to choose only a few to highlight for this review.  Our family’s favorite is the “good foods from Mother Earth” section, where we like to stop and name the various foods.  While Lee and Low do have a teacher’s guide, I would LOVE a page-by-page walk through the book that highlighted the different plants, animals and symbols represented.   I’ve pieced through some parts on my own after many rereadings, but know that there’s much I’m missing.

The composition of Printup’s paintings is stellar.  Although his palette varies depending on what he’s depicting, he keeps a sense of motion enticing the reader to turn just one more page – not easy with painted still-life illustrations.  The light source is always in the upper right corner, and while it switches back from day to night several times, there is a sense of time passing.

The human figures in the book are all native, and none are shown wearing modern dress, but the tense is present.  In the first part of the book a child is shown in a cradleboard, but in the middle a progressively older child is pictured, until the final picture shows a child again (perhaps the next generation has been born.)  I wasn’t entirely sure of the setting since one of the pictures I thought depicted salmon swimming upstream, but others seemed set in the Six Nations area.

Giving Thanks Swamp p14-15 resized
Pages 14 and 15 of Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message.

Swamp’s words are perfect for a read aloud, and spaced well, with no more than three sentences per two-page spread.  The vocabulary is not easy (precious, beautiful, breathe, directions) but elegant and concise.  Older children will be able to use this for independent reading, while little ones can listen to it read aloud and pore over the detailed pictures later.

The book concludes with a basic Mohawk version of the text, “to give readers of all backgrounds a sense of this ancient and still-evolving Iroquoian language.”  Swamp stresses the vital importance of language as an expression of cultural identity in his afterword.

The religious content in this is not likely to offend.  Some monotheistic families might wish to substitute the word “God” in the “we thank you” refrains, but our family had no problems reading the book as written.  The book reflects but does not force a Six Nations worldview.  There is no content that would bother a sensitive child or prevent a child of any age from enjoying this book.

Recommended by Native American reviewers from both AICL and Oyate, this is a must-have classic for both Thanksgiving and the rest of the year.  Highly recommended.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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