Tuesday, November 10, 2009


My first Thanksgiving as an elementary school librarian in a Title 1 school in Northern Virginia, I came home discouraged. After reading what I thought were the best books on Thanksgiving, depicting happy families eating turkey and stuffing, my students seemed either bored or puzzled. In class after class, no one was interested in my turkey songs. No one could play my call-and-response games about the traditional Thanksgiving menu. Finally, one student politely explained, “We don’t do that at my house.”

My students came from over sixty different countries. Many of them did not speak English at home. But Thanksgiving is a holiday for Americans of all faiths and births. After all, it celebrates the landing of the pilgrims on Plymouth Rock. In many ways, my students were pilgrims—people who came to America for religious freedom or to find a better life. Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the diversity in America. I felt bad that my students seemed to feel so uncomfortable with Thanksgiving. Did they really not observe the holiday at all?

So when we came back after the holiday, I asked them what they did. At first, they were hesitant to tell me. I asked more questions. Did you have a meal with your families? “Oh yes,” they told me. “But we didn’t have turkey.”

That’s when it dawned on me! It’s not that my students were ignoring Thanksgiving. They just were celebrating it with holiday foods from their birth countries. It reminded me of my own childhood. My father was an immigrant from Switzerland. Turkey and pumpkin were American foods he had never experienced before. Growing up, I often didn’t eat traditional American foods on Thanksgiving day, either! My father preferred duck on Thanksgiving. He thought turkey often tasted too dry. This memory inspired me to write my picture book Duck for Turkey Day, released by Albert Whitman & Co in September 2009.

In Duck for Turkey Day, a little girl named Tuyet is concerned because her family seems to be breaking the “rules” for Thanksgiving. Her Vietnamese-American grandmother explains, “Our family likes duck better.” The book validates the idea of gathering on Thanksgiving Day with ethnic holiday fare, rather than American foods that may not be appealing to immigrant families. And as Tuyet’s teacher says in Duck for Turkey Day, “It doesn’t matter what you eat on Thanksgiving, as long as you have a good time with family and friends.”

Please visit YouTube to see a book trailer for Duck for Turkey Day

Jacqueline Jules

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