Title: Squanto’s Journey, The Story of the First Thanksgiving
Author: Joseph Bruchac
Illustrator: Greg Shed
Publisher: Silver Whistle, Harcourt Inc, 2000
Themes: Native American History, Native American Month, Thanksgiving, Squanto, Thanksgiving
My story is both strange and true. I was born in the year the English call 1590. My family were leaders of the Patuxet people and I, too, was raised to lead. But in 1614 I was taken to Spain against my will. Now it is 1621 and I am again in my homeland. My name is Squanto. I would like to tell you my tale.
In 1620 an English ship called the Mayflower landed on the shores inhabited by the Pokanoket people, and it was Squanto who welcomed the newcomers and taught them how to survive in the rugged land they called Plymouth. He showed them how to plant corn, beans, and squash, and how to hunt and fish. And when a good harvest was gathered in the fall, the two peoples feasted together in the spirit of peace and brotherhood.
Almost four hundred years later, the tradition continues. . . .
Why I like this book:
As Bruchac notes in his afterword to this excellent picture-book, this Thanksgiving story is seldom told from the Native American perspective, and is usually marred by gross historical and cultural inaccuracies. Squanto’s Journey is an excellent corrective for some of the misinformation currently available, telling of the life story of Tisquantum (Squanto), a member of the Patuxet nation, whose role in befriending the English settlers of Plymouth would prove so fateful.
Young readers will perhaps be surprised to learn that Squanto was kidnapped by an English captain, sold as a slave to the Spanish, and that, when he was finally able to return to his homeland having seen much of Spain and England and having learned both languages, discovered most of his people had been killed by diseases brought to the Americas by European settlers.
Despite this horrifying history, Squanto believed in the possibilities of peace and friendship, and when the settlers at Plymouth needed his help, he gave it freely. This moving story of a true pniese, or man of honor, who never allowed suffering to embitter him, is matter-of-fact and realistic, without being brutal. Accompanied by Greg Shed’s gorgeous gouache illustrations, Squanto’s Journey should be required reading for anyone who thinks that being thankful requires forgetting the truth..
Of course, this was not the first Thanksgiving, but the myth around these events proved part the inspiration in middle of the American Civil War, for President Abraham Lincoln, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the 26th, the final Thursday of November 1863 to rally the Yankees. The only thing that I found myself wanting in this story was a little bit more emotion in the tone, but I am sure this was intentional on Bruchac’s part and is maybe indicative of Native American storytelling?
Recommended for older children above the ages of seven, as the narrative is substantial, dense, with much potentially novel vocabulary, not to mention that Squanto’s Journey will engender questions, discussions, debates and additional research (and Squanto’s Journey would also be a good and essential teaching resource for a unit on Thanksgiving or Native American history, yet another reason why I strongly do think a bibliography should have been included, as it would have very much increased the book’s teaching, learning and supplemental research value).
I would pare this with The National Geographic nonfiction book, 1621, A New Look at Thanksgiving.
Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.