Monday, November 25, 2013

Three Must-reads for Thanksgivukkah

Although this year's Chanukah-Thanksgiving convergence is rare indeed, Jewish-themed Thanksgiving books are not as rare as one might think.  These two are some of the best Thanksgiving books - actually, the best books - around.  And for good measure, I added a third, non-Jewish, but still immigrant-focused Thanksgiving book.

In Rivka's First Thanksgiving, the title character, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe, tries to convince her family to celebrate Thanksgiving. She tries to explain to them that Thanksgiving is a purely secular holiday, but they require that she seek permission from the rabbi.  When he denies it, Rivka writes a letter admonishing him, explaining that the pilgrims came to America for religious freedom, just as she and her family did.  The rabbi takes her case to what is essentially an appeals court of rabbis, who grant their blessing.  The rabbi then joins Rivka's family for Thanksgiving and says a special prayer thanking G-d for "the wisdom children give us."  I love lots of things about this book, including the strong heroine, but since we are such a letter-writing family, that is one aspect that speaks to me in a special way.  A lovely book, but beware the mention of pogroms and violence back in Eastern Europe.

Molly's Pilgrim (which I've written about this novella before as an anti-bullying text) is, like Rivka's First Thanksgiving, about how modern immigrants are pilgrims seeking religious freedom.  When Molly is required to make a clothespin doll of a Pilgrim (big "P") for class, her mother helps her by dressing the doll the way they dressed in the "old country."  When Molly's classmates make fun of her, her teacher not only defends her, asserting that coming to this country for religious freedom is the very essence of Thanksgiving and that Molly and her family are indeed (small "p") pilgrims, she explains that Thanksgiving actually has its roots in the Old Testament holiday of Sukkot, something I never knew.  (By the way, author Barbara Cohen is also the author of my favorite Passover book, The Carp in the Bathtub.)

Duck for Turkey Day focuses more on how immigrants, once here, make Thanksgiving their own.  When Tuyet, a Vietnamese immigrant, tries to convince her family to serve turkey, not duck, for Thanksgiving, and fails, she tearfully confesses the truth to her teacher.  To her surprise, her classmates join in, sharing what they ate for the holiday, with their meals including things like rice and beans and not a turkey among them.  I couldn't include a photo of this book as I lent it to my daughter's kindergarten class, in which, out of 20 families, 13 countries or cultures are represented!

What multicultural Thanksgiving books are your favorites?

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