• Grace McKinney

Many Ways to Say Thank You: Books on Gratitude

We often teach gratitude to children in the form of manners. We demonstrate how to say “please” and “thank you” and remind young ones to do the same from a very young age. As we near the holidays, so often associated with gratitudes and gatherings and reasons to say thanks, it’s worth considering what we mean when we say thank you—and why we ask our children to do the same.

When we’re not simply saying “thanks!” out of habit, we say thank you in recognition of a kindness that someone has offered us. In expressing thanks, we remind ourselves that little, if anything, can be taken for granted, and so much of what we receive is simply a gift. When we say thank you, we recognize the generosity on the other end of our gratitude.

We did a quick round up of some of our favorite titles for the season that remind us to give a good and honest thanks to the people, creatures, planet, and powers around us. Some take the form of a kind of grace-before-meals—a list of the many things that bring joy to our lives. Some instead teach us gratitude through story. Many of them center around food and family as great sources of gratitude. All of them, though, remind us that there are endless reasons to say “thank you.”

May We Have Enough to Share by Richard Van Camp

“May we have enough to share/ to know the sweetness of every day.” This simple message of hope begins a string of tender gratitudes contained in a joyful, meditative board book. Each “May we…” is paired with a beautiful photograph of an indigenous child (and sometimes their grown ups), all courtesy of the contributors to Tea & Bannock blog. Though small in size and scope, this little board book invites young children into powerful messages of gratitude and hope, ending with the greatest wish of all: “May we know love.”

We are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorrell, illustrated by Frané Lessac

Readers are introduced to the Cherokee tradition of saying otsaliheliga to “celebrate our blessings and reflect on our struggles.” The text follows Cherokee traditions through the seasons, illustrating that gratitude isn’t contained by certain holidays but instead seeps into a way of life. Cherokee terms used throughout the text are expanded through pronunciation keys and the Cherokee syllabary, offering non-Cherokee readers an opportunity to explore the experience of expressing gratitude in a new way.

Thank You, Omu! written and illustrated by Oge Mora

One of my favorite books for reading aloud likewise serves as a lesson in generosity and gratitude. Omu (pronounced AH-moo, meaning “queen” in Igbo) is cooking up a large pot of stew for dinner in her apartment in the big city. The tantalizing smell attracts many passersby who, one by one, are given a generous portion of Omu’s stew after they come knocking at her door. When Omu finally realizes that her generosity has left her with no stew at all, she receives another knock at the door with a very surprising treat from her friendly neighbors. A stunning picturebook rendered in richly colored collage, Mora’s debut book for children provides a playful story about the importance of generosity, community, and reciprocity.

Apple Cake: A Gratitude by Dawn Casey, illustrated by Genevieve Godbout

In simple rhyme and accompanied by sweet and soft illustrations, a child expresses gratitude for many elements of nature. As readers follow the child and her loyal pup across the landscape, we witness her basket growing heavier and heavier with supplies. At last, she lands in a kitchen where—you guessed it!—the apple cake is prepared and shared among family and friends. A lovely seasonal book that offers a recipe for expressing one’s thanks and for a quite delicious cake, too. (I promise, I made it!)

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Fry bread is many things—food, sound, art, and more. This special bread serves as the centerpiece for a reflection on the way that food can help us tell our stories and bring our families and communities together. A powerful meditation on culture, family, and unity, Maillard’s text pairs beautifully with Martinez-Neal’s lush, welcoming illustrations. With fry bread, Maillaird empowers readers to “rise to discover what brings us together,” especially those who are a part of the broad and diverse Native American families across the land today.

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp, illustrated by Erwin Printup, Jr.

An older but still stunning title, Giving Thanks offers a picture book presentation of the Haudenosaunee people’s Thanksgiving Address. Haudenosaunee people, also known as Iroquois or Six Nations, offer the Thanksgiving Address throughout many ceremonies and gatherings throughout the year as “an ancient message of peace and appreciation of Mother Earth and all her inhabitants.” Messages of gratitude for the earth’s elements that help to sustain our lives are paired with boldly hued illustrations filling each page. A lovely and poetic message that offers the opportunity to develop a rhythm of thanks in children’s lives.

What are your favorite reads for giving thanks? And what are you grateful for lately? We'd love to know!

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