Thursday, November 26, 2009

REVIEW: Rivka's First Thanksgiving

Rael, E.O.  (2001).  Rivka's First Thanksgiving.  New York:  Margaret K. McElderry Books.


30-Second Plot Summary:  The daughter of Jewish immigrants, it's up to young Rivka to share with her family the lessons she has learned about Thanksgiving from her school.  Rivka is set on her family celebrating the national holiday, but it will take some convincing to get her family and the Jewish community to be willing to participate.

While sharing the more happy, nationalistic interpretation of the holiday that kids are used to hearing, Rivka's First Thanksgiving considers the question of who Thanksgiving is for.  The picturebook focuses on the idea of how Thanksgiving isn't just for people whose families have been in this country for several generations, that it doesn't also have religious significance, but that the holiday is for all Americans.

This book has a lot of layers.  The text includes details that hint at the less than ideal treatment and housing arrangements of immigrants as well as many mentions of Jewish culture that a teacher could work into lessons on Judaism, reasons large groups of people choose to emigrate or on a lesson on assimilation of cultures within the U.S.

The illustrations done by Maryann Kovalski are pleasant, capturing the historical time period well.  She used a lot of neutral colors and gave the characters a lot of curved and cute features.


This story draws readers' attention to the immigrant experience.  Although it is historically set a teacher could choose to discuss the experience of immigrants historically or in a contemporary context.  A teacher can lead discussion on how the children of recent immigrants often negotiate or take on the responsibilities of the adults because of language and cultural knowledge differences.  If there are children in the class who have to take on such responsibilities, using this picturebook could open up a safe time for them to discuss their experiences and difficulties.

The immigrants depicted in the story are Jewish.  They use a lot of Yiddish terms which can provide teaching moments for students who do not know much about the Jewish culture and at the same time, Rivka's First Thanksgiving provides representation for children from a Jewish background.

Quotes of Note:

"That's a funny-looking Kotchka," Mama said, peering over Rivka's shoulder at her colored pencil sketch.
"It's not a duck, Mama," Rivka replied, returning to her drawing.  "It's a turkey to celebrate Thanksgiving."

"Thanksgiving?  What is it?" asked Bubbeh.
"It's a big happy holiday to celebrate the friendship between the Indians and the Pilgrims.  It's an important holiday, and I think we should celebrate it too!"

"Thanksgiving is for all Americans, Bubbeh.  Aren't we Americans, too?"

Tasty Rating:  !!!

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