Picture books are a great way for kids to anticipate and learn about Thanksgiving, which is easily overlooked since it falls between Halloween and Christmas. Though the selection of Thanksgiving picture books is also more limited than the other holidays, I promise there are still some great ones! You’ll find both fiction and nonfiction books on this list.
Don’t be fooled by the “picture book” format–many of these books are excellent choices for elementary school-age kids (especially the nonfiction books).
If I’ve missed one of your favorite Thanksgiving picture books, please share in the comments! For my master list of book lists, click/tap here.
Note: After each author’s name, I’ve designated the book’s general age range (T=Toddler, P=Preschooler, EE=Early Elementary, LE=Late Elementary).
Fiction Thanksgiving Picture Books
Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac (EE, LE). Celebrated Native American children’s author Joseph Bruchac offers an important First Thanksgiving story from the perspective of Squanto, who befriended the Pilgrims and taught them how to survive in the New World. Though he was abducted years earlier by Europeans and forced into slavery, Squanto managed to return to the New World, where he promoted peace and friendship between his people and the Pilgrims.
The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh, illustrated by Helen Sewell (P, EE).
This Caldecott Honor-winning story, first published in 1954, tells the story of the Pilgrims through the experiences of Giles, Constance, and Damaris Hopkins, from the Mayflower voyage when their brother, Oceanus, was born to the Pilgrim’s early struggles, their relations with the Native Americans, and the First Thanksgiving. By the way, Constance Hopkins is also the protagonist of Constance: A Story of Early Plymouth, a historical romance for older kids (I’m a fan).
Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving by Kimberly and James Dean (P, EE).
In this lift-the-flap story, Pete the Cat and his classmates act out the story of the First Thanksgiving. I was impressed by how well this book shares historical information while still being accessible and entertaining for young kids. Even my toddler loved it (though he was mainly in it for the lift-the-flaps).
This First Thanksgiving Day: A Counting Story by Laura Krauss Melmed, illustrated by Mark Buehner (T, P).
Beginning with 1 Pilgrim boy sitting in a tree and 2 Native American girls gathering nuts below him, this counting and rhyming story details the efforts of both Pilgrims and Native Americans as they prepare for the First Thanksgiving. It concludes with 12 tables “groaning beneath a harvest spread” as everyone shares a prayer of thanks. [Note: Kids will enjoy finding the hidden animals on every page!]
Turkey Trouble by Wendi Silvano, illustrated by Lee Harper (P, EE).
To avoid becoming the main dish at Thanksgiving dinner, a desperate Turkey tries disguising himself as other farm animals. When nothing seems to work, Turkey launches a last-ditch plan to save himself from the butcher’s knife. Kids will love this silly story, from Turkey’s crazy disguises to his final solution. (Spoiler: he dresses up as a pizza delivery guy and gives the farm’s family a pizza.)
Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman (T, P).
Bear wants to make dinner for his forest friends, but his cupboard is empty. Fortunately, his friends arrive with delicious food to share, and Bear says “thanks” to each one. Our family loves Karma Wilson’s Bear books, and this one, which concludes with Bear sharing stories (rather than food) with his grateful friends, is no exception.
Nonfiction Thanksgiving Picture Books
Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Matt Faulkner (EE, LE).
This engaging and quirkily-illustrated story celebrates not just Thanksgiving, but also the spirit and dedication of a woman whose persistence made the holiday possible (as the author writes, “never underestimate dainty little ladies”). In the 19th century, Thanksgiving was only haphazardly celebrated across the country. Sarah Hale wrote letters to U.S. presidents for 38 years before her letter to Abraham Lincoln influenced him to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. Thank you, Sarah, indeed!
Pilgrims of Plymouth by Susan E. Goodman (P, EE).
While the text in this book is pretty basic, I wanted to include it because it’s illustrated with wonderful photographs from the Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum that accurately brings the Plymouth Colony to life. It’s a great way for kids to see what life at the time of the First Thanksgiving really looked like (such as the surprising lack of buckles on the pilgrims’ hats). For similar books, try 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving (this one is good for older kids), Samuel Eaton’s Day, and Sarah Morton’s Day.
Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving edited with reflections by Katherine Paterson, illustrations by Pamela Dalton (EE, LE).
In this lovely, inspirational book, Newbery Medal-winning children’s author Katherine Paterson shares poems, prayers, and songs about giving thanks, from scriptures and Native American prayers to poems and African American spirituals. It isn’t really a picture book, but I love it so much I had to include it.
Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet (EE, LE).
When Macy’s Department Store needed to replace the live animals in their Thanksgiving Day Parade (too scary!), they asked puppeteer Tony Sarg for help. After just two years of tinkering, he invented the iconic giant balloons (actually upside-down marionettes) that have delighted the country for over eighty years. Melissa Sweet’s engaging and well-researched text won the Sibert Medal (for best children’s nonfiction book), and her charmingly detailed, mixed-media illustrations won a Caldecott Honor Award.
Over the River and Through the Wood by L. Maria Child, illustrated by Matt Tavares (P, EE).
‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey (P, EE).
Turk and Runt: A Thanksgiving Comedy by Lisa Wheeler, picture by Frank Ansley (EE).
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