Most of us know The Giving Tree. Many of us have mixed feelings and regard for the story just as we do holidays like Thanksgiving, which embrace noble principles but are couched in more complicated history and practices.
The words thankful and gratitude have curious roots that come from words related to memory, thought, feeling, goodwill and favor. They're all bundled up together. We teach our kids that it's polite to give thanks but do we teach them to think about the source, nature and depth of their gratitude? Many parents like me often nudge our kids. We remind them to say, "Thank you." We prompt, "What do you say?" I've done it many a time. However, when I slow down, more often, I ask first how something makes them feel. I might even specifically inquire whether they appreciate something. Then I try to help them make the connection: How can we let someone know that we appreciate something? How do we tell someone that what they did was nice or helpful? I want them to feel the gratitude, not just express it.
The Kids and the Craft
This year, well, it's been a year. Being a history nut, I usually push back on traditional tropes about Thanksgiving just as I do with Columbus Day and other things. Still, traditions and meaning matter. I wanted to do something to re-orient the kids around the concept of gratitude this year. I had cleared a spot for our funky, spooky Halloween tree, so it occurred to me that I could just as well keep that space occupied by a thanking tree. The kids and I tromped around the leafy woods and gathered suitable branches to pluck in a jar. Then, we set out origami paper and pre-cut construction paper leaves. A chalkboard note, a bucket of pens and pencils, some paper clips, and we were all set. We even relocated a few survivor pumpkins and kept out the lovely autumn tablecloth that a friend made us years ago. (Psst, if you don't feel super artsy, you can just fold paper up into triangles. They look kind of like leaves. Also, you can find leaf outlines to trace online or just grab some leaves outside.)
The idea is simple: Pause during the day, when you feel like it or just when you get up or before you go to bed, and write a note of thanks to anyone or anything. Thank a friend, a family member, a neighbor, a teacher, a politician, a pet, a squirrel or hop toad in the yard, a household appliance, a bit of dirt, the wind, the weather, the country, trees, voters, the Sun, the tides, the universe, yourself, your body, you name it. Thank someone, something, and mean it. Then hang the leaf or note on the tree.
Ours has been growing quite a bit already (since I took this pic), and that's a nice thing to see. Maybe we'll take turns sharing at the end of the month. I'm not entirely sure yet.
In the meantime, we also set out some of our favorite picture books with a spirit of thankfulness, kindness, or sharing. What you nurture, you grow. Here's hoping anyways. Here's hoping you might enjoy some of these stories, too:
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, written by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frane Lessac
The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng, written by Sophia Gholz, illustrated by Kayla Harren
Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando, written by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz
The Thankful Book, written and illustrated by Todd Parr
Thank You, Omu! written and illustrated by Oge Mora
The Thank You Book, written and illustrated by Mo Willems
Those Shoes, written by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
Thankful, written by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Archie Preston
Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
A Kids Books About Gratitude, by Ben Kenyon
Bear Says Thanks, written by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman
Thank You, Garden, written by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Simone Shin
Gracias Thanks, written by Pat Mora, illustrated by John Parra
Thanks to the Animals, written by Allen Sockabasin, illustrated by Rebekah Raye
Have You Thanked an Inventor Today? written by Patrice McLaurin, illustrated by Dian Wang
Waiting for the Biblioburro, written by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra
Yaffa and Fatima, written by Fawzia Gilani-Williams, illustrated by Chiara Fedele
Bear Says Thank You, written and illustrated by Oriol Vidal
I Am Thankful: A Thanksgiving Book for Kids, written by Sheri Wall, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown
Mama Panya's Pancakes: A Village Tale from Kenya, written by Mary and Richard Chamberlin, illustrated by Julia Cairns
Someday, written by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Rosie Winstead
The Water Princess, written by Georgie Badiel and Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
The Journey, written and illustrated by Francesca Sanna
Up in the Leaves: The True Story of the Central Park Treehouses, written by Shira Boss, illustrated by Jamey Christoph
Taking Time, written and illustrated by Jo Loring-Fisher
Trombone Shorty, written by Troy Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier
How to Grow an Apple Pie, written by Beth Charles, illustrated by Katie Rewse
Around the Table that Grandad Built, written by Melanie Heuiser Hill, illustrated by Jaime (Jimyung) Kim
Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku, written by Lee Wardlow, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
Chicken in the Kitchen, written by Nnedi Okorafor, illustrated by John Jennings
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, written by Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Coat of Many Colors, written by Dolly Parton, illustrated by Brooke Boynton-Hughes
Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Check out some more books about gratitude from Brightly. Feel free to let me know about other good titles, too!