I forgot that I had Rivka's First Thanksgiving sitting in my to-review-before-Thanksgiving-pile! This is quite pathetic, as there were only 2 books in the pile, but you still might have time to track it down before the big day. If not, put it on your list for next year.
In Elsa Okon Rael's Rivka's First Thanksgiving, the title character is the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland. She learns about Thanksgiving at school, but her parents don't think it sounds like it is a holiday for Jews. Her mother tells her, "It sounds to me as though this is a party for Gentiles." Well, this is just not good enough for Rivka who decides to take the issue to the Rabbi. But, lo and behold, the Rabbi agrees with her mother! What is Rivka to do? Well, what any intrepid, determined girl would do: she writes a letter of protest! For this she is called to state her case before a whole bunch of Rabbis!
Despite the rather doubtful premise that the Rabbis had not yet heard of Thanksgiving, I truly enjoyed this book. It presented an interesting perspective on the traditional holiday and I especially appreciated that the learned adult community was able to listen with respect to the ideas and opinions of a young girl and to admire her point of view. Rivka draws insightful paralles between her Jewish family's experience and the experience of the Pilgrims.
The turn-of-the-century city landscape in this book is illustrated by Maryann Kovalski. The setting is obviously New York's Lower East Side although the only textual nod to place is a reference to Rivington Street. The tenement houses, narrow stairways and views of busy street life and laundry on fire escapes are the same familiar and comforting images we've seen over and over again whenever this neighborhood appears in picture books.
If you're bored with rhyming books about turkeys and Mayflowers, Rivka's First Thanksgiving is a great addition to your Thanksgiving reading. It might, however, be better appreciated by children who already have a grasp on the meaning and history of the Thanksgiving holiday (there is also a brief mention of pogroms).
Visit the illustrator's website, she has some photographs that inspired her illustrations on this page.
Read my reviews of other Thanksgiving in the City books.
Listen to a 3 minute interview with Maryann Kavolski here (starting around minute 9:30). It's very interesting!