The best books that will make your Thanksgiving more meaningful

Melanie Kirkpatrick Author Of Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience
By Melanie Kirkpatrick

Who am I?

My idea for a book about Thanksgiving was born in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. I was in downtown Manhattan that awful morning on my way to my office at the Wall Street Journal, directly across from the World Trade Center. I stood on the street and watched the towers fall. Two months later, as Thanksgiving approached, I found myself reading William Bradford’s first-person account of the First Thanksgiving. I wanted to learn more about this little kernel of history and how it grew into a cherished national holiday. I wrote several articles for the Journal about the holiday. Writing a book was the logical next step. 


I wrote...

Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience

By Melanie Kirkpatrick,

Book cover of Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience

What is my book about?

We all know the story of Thanksgiving. Or do we? Drawing on newspaper accounts, private correspondence, historical documents, and cookbooks, I explore the little-known history of the holiday—including the role of Presidents Washington, Lincoln and FDR; the “first” Thanksgivings in Florida, Virginia and Texas; and, of course, why we eat turkey and watch football on the fourth Thursday of November. I thank Katherine Messenger for enhancing my words with her lovely illustrations.

The books I picked & why

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Of Plymouth Plantation: 1620-1645, Modernized & Abridged, Mayflower Quadricentennial Edition

By William Bradford,

Book cover of Of Plymouth Plantation: 1620-1645, Modernized & Abridged, Mayflower Quadricentennial Edition

Why this book?

Of Plymouth Plantation is Governor William Bradford’s first-person account of the Pilgrims’ journey to America and the adventures, trials, and tribulations they encountered there. It’s a monumental story, and Bradford’s telling of it is thrilling. Only 53 Pilgrims survived their first winter in the New World, half the number of men, women, and children who had sailed on the Mayflower. But now, Bradford writes, everyone was “well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty.” That included “a great store of wild turkeys” and much more. Does that sound familiar? Happy Thanksgiving. 

Of Plymouth Plantation: 1620-1645, Modernized & Abridged, Mayflower Quadricentennial Edition

By William Bradford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Of Plymouth Plantation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving

By Louisa May Alcott,

Book cover of An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving

Why this book?

I love, love, love this endearing novella by the author of Little Women. It’s Thanksgiving morning on the Barrett Farm in New Hampshire, and Mrs. Barrett is called away to nurse her sick mother in town. Father hitches up the sleigh and off they go to Grandma’s house, leaving eight hungry children behind. The oldest girl declares that she knows how to roast a turkey, and before you know it, she’s talked her skeptical brothers and sisters into helping her make the feast.  Catastrophe ensues, with a lot of fun for the reader along the way.

An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving

By Louisa May Alcott,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Thanksgiving 101: Celebrate America's Favorite Holiday with America's Thanksgiving Expert

By Rick Rodgers,

Book cover of Thanksgiving 101: Celebrate America's Favorite Holiday with America's Thanksgiving Expert

Why this book?

If you’re nervous about fixing Thanksgiving dinner—and who isn’t?—this book is for you. Veteran cooking teacher Rick Rodgers provides an array of excellent holiday recipes along with a step-by-step guide to preparing, cooking, and serving the meal. While his focus is the traditional feast—turkey, stuffing, cranberries, potatoes, pies—he also includes recipes for ethnic and vegetarian favorites. Plus there’s a welcome section on what to do with the leftovers. When it comes to preparing the holiday dinner, my personal Mount Everest has always been the gravy. No longer. Thanks to Thanksgiving 101, my gravy is now rich, smooth, and delicious.

Thanksgiving 101: Celebrate America's Favorite Holiday with America's Thanksgiving Expert

By Rick Rodgers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thanksgiving 101 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Thanksgiving in the Woods

By Phyllis Alsdurf, Jenny Lovlie (illustrator),

Book cover of Thanksgiving in the Woods

Why this book?

There is no better book on Thanksgiving for young children than Phyllis Alsdurf’s Thanksgiving in the Woods, which recounts the true story of the annual holiday dinner that a group of family and friends celebrate in the woods of upstate New York. Gorgeous illustrations by Jenny Lovlie evoke the famous First Thanksgiving of 1621, when Pilgrims and Indians enjoyed a three-day harvest feast in the woods of New England. Four hundred years later, the meaning of the holiday remains the same. As Thanksgiving in the Woods explains, Thanksgiving is about faith, family, and friends. 

Thanksgiving in the Woods

By Phyllis Alsdurf, Jenny Lovlie (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Thanksgiving in the Woods as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


American Cookery

By Amelia Simmons,

Book cover of American Cookery

Why this book?

To understand the derivation of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, look no further than American Cookery, the first cookbook written by an American to be published in the United States. The word “Thanksgiving” doesn’t appear in American Cookery, which came out in 1796.  But recipes for the familiar holiday meal are all here: roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, cornbread, and potatoes—and, of course, mince pie and pumpkin pie. American Cookery was the first time that most of these recipes appeared in print. So, too, Simmons was the first culinary writer to focus on New World foods, that is, ingredients that would be easily available to most American cooks. It's no surprise that American Cookery is on the Library of Congress’s list of “Books That Shaped America.”

American Cookery

By Amelia Simmons,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked American Cookery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Amelia Simmons worked as a domestic in Colonial America and gathered her cookery expertise from firsthand experience. Her book points out the best ways of judging the quality of meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, etc., and presents the best methods of preparing and cooking them. In choosing fish, poultry, and other meats, the author wisely advises, "their smell denotes their goodness." Her sound suggestions for choosing the freshest and most tender onions, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, asparagus, lettuce, cabbage, beans, and other vegetables are as timely today as they were nearly 200 years ago. Here are the first uniquely American recipes using…


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Interested in Thanksgiving, family, and gratitude?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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