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1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving

The Myths and Realities of the First Thanksgiving

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1621 A New Look at Thanksgiving, a nonfiction children's book about Thanksgiving

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving

National Geographic
1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving provides just that in this nonfiction book about Thanksgiving. The origins of 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving are an important part of the story. The book was an outgrowth of changes at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Massachusetts.
As the foreword states, “In 1947 the founders of Plimoth Plantation created a museum to honor the 17th-century English colonists who would come to be known to the world as Pilgrims. In doing so, the founders left out the perspective of the Wampanoag people who had lived on the land for thousands of years.” That changed as new research and new thinking led the museum to look at history from the viewpoint of both the English colonists and Native people.

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving looks at the 1621 harvest feast from the perspective of both the Pilgrims and the Native people of the Wampanoag Nation at what has come to be known as the “first Thanksgiving.” In doing so, the authors separate myth from reality for young readers.

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving: The Format and Contents

The 48-page long book has a picture book format, with photographs or other artwork on every page. Almost all of the illustrations in the book are color photographs taken at Plimoth Plantation of reenactments of life there, with an emphasis on the three-day harvest festival.

The story of Thanksgiving in Plimoth Plantation is given historical context and, as mentioned, presented from the point of view of the colonists and the Wampanoag people. The authors remind readers, “History is never simple. The history of the English colonies in America is a history of European people imposing their culture, politics, and religion onto Native people.”

At the end of 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving, there is a photo essay, Bringing the Past to Life, about the reenactment of the harvest gathering that was photographed for the book’s illustrations. A one-page chronology includes Ancient Wampanoag History plus European Contact and Thanksgiving Days. There is also an index and a bibliography.

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving: The Authors and Illustrators

Children’s book author Catherine O’Neill and Margaret M. Bruchac, an advisor for the Wampanoag Indian Program at Plimoth Plantation, wrote 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving, with assistance from Plimoth Plantation. The photographs by Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson bring the period to life for readers and add meaning to the text.

My Recommendation

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving is an excellent book to share in the classroom with students in grades 4-7. It is also a good book to share as a family. I did not realize how many misconceptions I had (and had shared with my children) about the first Thanksgiving until I read 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving. (National Geographic, 2001, paperback edition 2004. ISBN: 9780792261391)

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