By: Beth Spencewood
Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp
This beautiful picture book guides children to thank different aspects of nature. “All the trees in the word, we are thankful for the shade and warmth you give us. Thank you, all the birds in the world, for singing your beautiful songs for all to enjoy” (Swamp 7-8). I love how it brings such a focus on being grateful for things we are so dependent on, yet we often overlook. While researching this book, I saw it suggested as a good book for children celebrating the U.S. holiday: Thanksgiving. While it certainly is related to thankfulness and uses the word “thanksgiving” in it, don't be misled to believe that this book is intended for a particular day. Rather, the children of the Mohawk Nation, of which the author, Chief Jake Swamp, is member of, are taught to start every day thanking Mother Earth. This story is his adaptation of that tradition for young children.
The additional information provided about the Thanksgiving Address can help adults learn more if they are not familiar with it. However, I liked how the part of the book that would be read aloud does not assume that the reader isn’t familiar with the tradition; it is simply a guide on thanking Mother Earth. It starts, “To be a human being is an honor, and we offer thanksgiving for all the gifts of life. Mother Earth, we thank you for giving us everything we need” (Swamp, 1-2). It doesn’t explain itself in a way that makes it seem like the people who already practice it as part of their culture are not the intended audience. It just leads the reader through giving thanks to nature in a way that’s fun for children.
I love the bright and bold colors used by the illustrator, Edwin Printup, Jr. They are perfect for a book intended for the start of the day. He also brings human features into some of the elements of nature that are depicted, such as adding a human face to the moon which emphasizes how it and other parts of nature are referred to with familial relationships. “Thank you, Grandmother Moon, for growing full every month to light the stars for children and sparkling waters (Swamp 15-16).” The language and imagery work together to show our interconnectedness with nature.
There are so many “good night” picture books out there for children, I was happy to find such a nice counterpart. Instead of lulling children to sleep, this book helps them start the day by thanking nature, a message that I think is especially important in today’s high-tech world. The picture book form is great for a young child because it provides a fun and easy way to think about and thank nature—every day.