A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Offers details of the first Thanksgiving, a harvest feast celebrated by the newcomer pilgrims and members of the local Wampanoag tribe, including food eaten: succotash, duck, turkey, rabbit, deer, lobster, fish, pumpkins, cranberries, boiled bread, and nasamp (a traditional Wampanoag dish). Several, words in Wôpanâa, the language of the Wampanoag, with a list of them and their translations and pronunciations in the front of the book. The authors use the term First Peoples rather than Native Americans, "because they were the first to live on this land." Wampanoag means "People of the First Light." "For the Wampanoag people, guardian spirits take the form of animals and plants, like Weeâchumun, to watch over human beings." So plants, and animals are characters in the story and speak in bits of dialogue.
"Sometimes new people can seem scary." "The Creator tells us to help all living things. This is how the world works."
Positive Role Models
The book begins with a contemporary Wampanoag grandmother telling the true Thanksgiving origin story to her two grandchildren. In that story, Weeâchamun (corn) and Fox are main characters who protect the Wampanoag people. They watch the newcomers (the pilgrims) and worry that they might not make it through through the winter. In the spring, Weeâchamun sends dreams to the Wampanaog telling them to help the newcomers. Then a Wampanoag named Tisquantum "showed the newcomers how to raise Weeâchumun and her sisters, Beans and Squash. He taught the newcomers how to feed fish and seaweed to Weeâchumun to help her grow." When the Wampanoag leader, Ousamequin, first visits the newcomers, "He could see that they wanted peace."
The Wampanoag people are central to the story, both in the present day and in the telling of the Thanksgiving origin story. White newcomers Wampanoag people interact positively. The book is co-written by three Indigenous authors, Danielle Greendeer (Mashpee Wampanoag Nation), Anthony Greer (Chickasaw), and Alexis Bunten (Yu'pik and Unangan) and illustrated by Garry Meeches Sr. (Anishinaabe).
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Violence & Scariness
"That meal changed both our lives and theirs forever. Many Americans call it a day of thanksgiving. Many of our people call it a day of mourning." That last sentence may require some explaining for young readers. Also, there's a picture of a Wampanoag carrying a dead deer over his shoulders. Ghostly Wampanoag ancestors (like the three on the book cover) loom over the action artfully and positively in some scenes. Some reference to pilgrim deaths: "Many of the newcomers lost mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters during the long, cold winter."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun's Thanksgiving Story offers the origin of the American holiday from a Native American perspective, specifically, that of the Wampanoag people, who helped the pilgrims survive their first year (1691) in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, by sharing their seeds to grow vegetables (Weeâchumun means corn) as well as fish and game. Keepunumuk means "the time of harvest." The book is co-written by three Indigenous authors, Danielle Greendeer (a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag Nation), Anthony Greer (a Chickasaw citizen), and Alexis Bunten (Yu'pik and Unangan). And it's illustrated by Garry Meeches Sr. (Anishinaabe).
Is It Any Good?
This retelling of the first Thanksgiving from a Wampanoag point of view is beautifully written and illustrated. Words in Wôpanâa, the language of the Wampanoag, are sprinkled throughout, and a list of them and their translations appear in the front of the book. The mythical style of Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun's Thanksgiving Story is in keeping with Wampanoag storytelling and features plants and animals as characters. Even corn seeds get a speaking part in this passage, when Fox observes two pilgrims taking a basket of them from an abandoned wetu (a traditional Wampanoag home): "Don't take us away!" the seeds cried. "We are waiting for the First Peoples to come back in the spring to prepare our beds. We must grow first!" But the newcomers could not hear the seeds. Their ears did not know the voices of the land."
It may be a little confusing at first for kids to grasp who's talking. The Wôpanâa word Keepunumuk is used for corn, but corn's "sisters," Bean and Squash, have English names. And the ghostly ancestors that hover in some scenes (and on the book cover) are so clearly rendered, they may appear to be live characters, but help convey that the spirits of our ancestors are always with us. The art is striking, and the story is a welcome centering of the Wampanoag in this long mythologized American tale.
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