Monday, November 23, 2009

Thankful: The Very First Thanksgiving Day by Rhonda Gowler Greene

This is the food, gathered and blessed,
the corn and sweet berries, and wild turkey dressed,
Shared on the very first Thanksgiving Day.

Beginning at the heart of the Thanksgiving story, Rhonda Greene's The Very First Thanksgiving Day (Aladdin), utilizing the familiar "house that Jack built" verse form, clearly signals that this rhyming account is aimed at young children. Working closely in tandem with artist Susan Gaber, whose acrylic paintings of youngsters involved in the Pilgrim story glow with energy and light, this retelling has much to offer the picture book audience.

Greene uses an engaging stratagem to tell the oft-told tale, beginning, like Jack's house, with the end of the story and working backward, through the harvest, the planting with the aid of the Indians, the hunger and sickness of the first winter, the long voyage, and at last the colonists' hopeful departure from their own land, leaving behind everything except their hope:

This is the land where it all began.
The land where a brave group made ready their plan
To travel the ocean that never would end,
That sometimes was foe and sometimes was friend....

Gaber's skillful illustrations, in full-page and double-page spreads, flesh out the simple verse, telling the historic and dramatic story visually with admirable force. And from this beginning in the old-country harbor, author Greene proceeds to reverse the action, taking the reader again back to the harvest celebration in a recapitulation of the feast of Thanksgiving which the reader can now appreciate fully.

Not far from the houses, built in straight rows,
That stood in the hot sun and harsh winter snows
And sheltered the Pilgrims who farmed the new land,
Who steadfastly labored and toiled by hand.

Who learned from the Indians, skillful and strong,
Who knew how to live through the winters so long.
And ate of the food, gathered and blessed,
The corn and sweet berries, the wild turkey dressed,

Shared on the very first Thanksgiving Day.

Dressed in its colorful, inexpensive paperback edition, The Very First Thanksgiving Day, with its satisfying cadence and striking illustrations, deserves its own place at the table for Thanksgiving reading.

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