This response is from Linda Levstik, a professor of social studies at the University of Kentucky, and the author with Keith C. Barton of the excellent book Doing History: Investigating with Children in Elementary and Middle School. With her permission, here is her email:
The semester is over and I’ve finally had a chance to catch up (sort of!). I loved Thanksgiving: The True Story. I am always nervous when anyone uses the word “true” in relation to history, but this is an excellent example of the kind of truth historical inquiry might inform–tentative based on available evidence, open to new information, inviting new information, going for complexity and ambiguity. How lovely. I’m doing a workshop in Connecticut in July and will recommend this one (along with your other books) to the elementary teachers who are the most likely to be teaching about Thanksgiving.
I particularly like the chart of claims and sources–what an example for teachers who might do the same with other historical stories/myths. In Doing History we included a similar example for Christopher Columbus and one for Johnny Appleseed. The charts really helped younger students make sense out of conflicting information. I was also thinking about the “harvest home” origins and how often that festival ends up in children’s fantasy literature (Susan Cooper’s work especially). It would be interesting to have children search out the holiday connections used across genres and drawing on ancient as well as more modern interpretations/celebrations.
Anyway–good food for thought (thank you!), good sources to explore, and information I didn’t know about other claims to be “first” at giving thanks. We are a funny people with our concern about firsts, aren’t we?!