There’s never been a shortage of children’s books on the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving, of course. But over time, fashion and political correctness have influenced how the story is told and what details are included, emphasized, or omitted. I’m happy to report that some of the recent titles are returning to a more straightforward account that recognizes the Pilgrim’s deep faith in God and their practice of setting aside a day of thanksgiving to thank and honor Him for His specific care and provision as they reaped a bountiful harvest before heading into their second winter in the new world. I’m pleased to highlight three such books.
Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas goes the furthest of the three. Squanto is usually afforded a small but significant role in the traditional account. He arrives after the terrible dying-time of the first winter and moves in with the Pilgrim settlers and teaches them how to farm and fish. But Squanto’s story is itself a remarkable example of the providence of God. Squanto was kidnapped by European sailors in 1608, taken to Spain, and sold as a slave. But something remarkable happened at the slave auction. Squanto was purchased by a group of Spanish monks who devoted themselves to redeeming and freeing as many slaves as they could. The monks taught Squanto Spanish, and told him about God. They encouraged him to trust God. After five years in Spain, the monks arranged for Squanto to travel to London where they had made an arrangement with an English merchant who promised to help Squanto find his way back to Massachusetts. In 1618, Squanto, now aged 22 sailed back across the ocean to his home. When he reached the site of his village, it was deserted. A neighboring tribe told him the sad news that his entire village had perished in an outbreak of sickness. For two years, Squanto lived with the neighboring tribe. Then came word from one of the braves that a group of European families had arrived and built a small settlement where Squanto’s tribe used to live. Squanto went to visit them and greeted them in English. He told them his story of kidnapping and slavery, his redemption in Spain, and his return with the English fishing fleet. The Pilgrims told Squanto their story – leaving England seeking a place where they could worship God and serve Him. Squanto told the Pilgrims he would come and live with them and teach them how the Indians farmed and fished. Governor Bradford told Squanto that his story was like the story of Joseph – taken from his home and sold into slavery. And then Joseph was used by God to save a whole nation from starvation. The final third of the book tells (and shows) the story of Squanto helping the Pilgrims culminating in the celebration and Thanksgiving given to God by the Pilgrims and by Squanto in the fall of 1621.
Squanto’s Journey by Joseph Bruchac tells Squanto’s story in his own voice. Bruchac is a Native American and his text is clear and sparse – tinged with understandable sadness, but not bitterness. Squanto has endured kidnapping, slavery, long absence and the loss of his entire tribe to sickness. And yet he remains friendly towards the Pilgrims and seeks earnestly for peace. The illustrations are beautiful, with the bright orange, yellow, and brown shades of a New England fall.
Pilgrim Cat by Carol Peacock is a delightful take on the Pilgrim story inspired by an encounter the author’s daughters had with a present-day cat at Plimoth Plantation, the living history museum in Massachusetts. There were eleven girls on the Mayflower, and there were cats. From these tidbits, Peacock weaves a story that certainly might have happened. If my daughters are any guide, the cat will certainly capture children’s attention and imagination and provide an opportunity to study the story of the Pilgrims with an intriguing twist. The cat, named “Pounce” is both a companion and a comfort through the “dying time” of the first winter. With a litter of kittens, Pounce is quite happy sampling tidbits under the table at the first Thanksgiving.
– Rob Shearer, Publisher