My rating: ★★★☆☆
The Magic School Bus at the First Thanksgiving is a Level 2 Scholastic Reader, featuring “vocabulary and sentence length for beginning readers”. It’s based on Joanna’s Cole’s original Magic School Bus book series and stars the characters of the Magic School Bus television show in a trip to the “first Thanksgiving”.
As far as Thanksgiving books go, there are three main categories. The first category tells the story of a modern U.S. Thanksgiving and mostly or completely ignores the origins of the holiday. The second tells the mythical version of the “first” Thanksgiving that elementary school students throughout the United States “reenact” every year. The third kind attempts to teach children the truth behind the nonsense. I’m happy to say that The Magic School Bus at the First Thanksgiving is an example of the third case.
In the book, Ms. Frizzle is teaching her class about the Thanksgiving holiday; on her blackboard, she has written a menu of what the English emigrants and Wampanoag may actually have eaten at the celebration that eventually came to be referred to as “the first Thanksgiving”. Upon seeing this menu, the students insist that pumpkin pie should be listed–they have it every year!–but Dorothy Ann’s book says otherwise. To get to the bottom of it, Ms. Frizzle ushers her class into the bus for a field trip through time.
On their trip, the class gets to witness the Mayflower’s journey to and arrival in North America and the first winter the emigrants endured in their new home (complete with a mention of the many deaths that occurred during this period). Then the story gets into the “Thanksgiving” itself, explaining Tisquantum /Squanto’s role in the story (mention is made of his being kidnapped and taken to England, but not of his enslavement; presumably the subject was considered a tad too mature for a book aimed at toddlers), the duties the Europeans performed during the harvest season, and the recreation that may have been indulged in during the three-celebration. Notably, the book also points out that there were more Native Americans than Europeans at the celebration, that the celebration was not called a “Thanksgiving”, and that Thanksgiving was not a national holiday until 1863; it also alludes to the fact that the Wampanoag people’s arrival at the celebration was a surprise and not the result of a previously extended invitation.
All in all, I’d say The Magic School Bus at the First Thanksgiving is a wonderful way to teach children about the reality (to the best of modern historians’ knowledge) of the “first Thanksgiving”, and I highly recommend it to those children interested in learning about the background of the holiday–especially those children whose schools perpetuate the mythical version of the historical event.