By Debi Lander
Photography courtesy of Steve Birdsall (children’s photos). Book cover provided by authors.
Turkey on the Table combines history, art, and fun for families as Thanksgiving approaches.
Most of us vividly recall learning about the First Thanksgiving in elementary school. We were told English Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts shared a bountiful harvest in 1621 with their Native American neighbors who had helped them survive in the New World. For decades, children trotted off to school dressed up as Massachusetts Pilgrims and Indians to join together for classroom feasts. They learned that pumpkin was good for more than jack o’lanterns and corn was ground into cornmeal and baked into bread.
Years later, folks in St. Augustine, Florida, claimed Florida as the site of the first Thanksgiving celebration.
Eminent Florida historian Michael Gannon says, “Not until 56 years later would the Pilgrims in Massachusetts observe their famous Thanksgiving. St. Augustine’s settlers celebrated the nation’s first Thanksgiving on Sept. 8, 1565. Following a religious service, the Spaniards shared a communal meal with the local native tribe.”
Whichever version you embrace, it wasn’t until 1863, during the Civil War that the U.S. holiday became official. Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.
Today, however, parades, overindulgent meals, and football compete with the original meaning behind Thanksgiving.
Enter Kelly Maunus and April George in 2014 – two moms who decided to create a book and project to help foster gratitude. Their “Turkey on the Table” book-set features a calico fabric stuffed turkey, complete with heart-shaped prongs to hold its turkey feathers. Children color the paper feathers and write a word denoting something specific they are thankful for—food, family, faith, their pets and friends.
George says, “We wanted to bring some attention to the Thanksgiving holiday in a way that would engage the whole family. Many families have a tradition of going around the table and saying what they are thankful for, but we thought the turkey would be a great visual display of gratitude for all to see during the entire month of November; it’s a representation of what’s in your heart.”
The Birdsall family of Baltimore purchased the book set last year. “My kids enjoyed seeing the feathers on the turkey grow in number each day and because we made a rule that each feather had to be unique, it forced them to think deeper about their day to find a new person or program to be thankful for,” says Steve Birdsall, a father who helped his children put the calico bird together.
In addition to this meaningful family activity, every book set purchased provides a donation of 10 meals through a partnership with Feeding America. Previous to this year’s upcoming holiday, Turkey on the Table sales provided over 547,120 meals to Feeding America. The goal this year is to reach a million.
Co-author Maunus says, “We love that our product gives back to those in need and that we are partnered with an amazing organization like Feeding America. Food insecurity is a real issue in America, and many hardworking people and children depend on their local food banks for sustenance. We are honored to help in any small way.”
Colorful illustrations by Christen Cushing of Los Angeles jump off the paperback book’s glossy pages. The characters in the story resemble Japanese anime (animation art) or comic book figures. The style appeals to children.
“The book works well as a short bedtime story,” reports Birdsall. “As a parent, you know that you should be teaching gratitude to your children. “Turkey on the Table” is a great tangible reminder to pause and reflect, as a family, to take time in our busy days to offer thanks.”
Find the book and turkey set at independent shops, including Ultimate Gifts in Southaven, Mississippi, and in national chains such as Bed, Bath and Beyond and Michaels, or online from Amazon.com. Suggested retail price $39.99.
Other Books for Thanksgiving
Looking for an age appropriate book with a Thanksgiving message? Here are a few suggestions:
Where is Baby’s Turkey? by Karen Katz
This interactive book allows little ones to lift the flaps on each page to find a turkey stuffed animal.
Franklin’s Thanksgiving by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark
Beloved turtle Franklin likes everything about Thanksgiving, from eating pumpkin-fly pie to making cornucopias. But best of all is having his Grandma and Grandpa share the holiday.
The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh
In this Caldecott Honor-winning picture book, Giles, Constance and Damaris Hopkins are all passengers aboard the crowded Mayflower.
Grades 4 and up:
Thank You, Sarah by Laurie Halse Anderson and Matt Faulkner
Meet one invincible “lady editor” named Sarah Hale who spent 35 years working to save Thanksgiving. Her many petitions to Abraham Lincoln swayed him to sign the Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1863.
America’s Real First Thanksgiving: St. Augustine, Florida by Robyn Giola
Before the Pilgrims celebrated, Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez arrived in Florida and founded St. Augustine. On Sept. 8, 1565, the Spanish and the native Timucua celebrated with a feast of thanksgiving.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving by Charles M. Schulz
Although Charles Brown can barely make toast, he tries to fix Thanksgiving dinner for Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang. A classic for all ages.