Thank You Sarah: the woman who saved Thanskgivng by Laurie Halse Anderson; illustrated by Matt Faulkner, 2002
(Ages 5 – 10)
We all know that Thanksgiving celebrates the feast between the Pilgrims and Native Americans and focuses on giving thanks for what we have, but do you know the real reason why every state celebrates it on the fourth Thursday of November? It is because of a superhero. Not Superman or Batman. No, this superhero was armed with a pen and named Sarah Hale. While she might appear to be a dainty little lady, this book teaches us to “Never underestimate dainty little ladies.” Sarah Hale fought for the things she believed in. She was America’s first female magazine editor publishing great authors including Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. She wrote poetry, children’s books, novels, and fought for schools for girls and argued against slavery. And by the way, she also raised five children and composed a song you might be familiar with, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” How did she do all of these amazing things, you may ask? She used her pen to make the world a better place. She wrote articles and letters to government officials to persuade them to change policies she disagreed with.
So what does all this have to do with Thanksgiving? Well, when our country was just coming together, Thanksgiving was observed by most states in the northeast, but was not a National Holiday and definitely not practiced through all of the states. Sarah Hale felt strongly that Thanksgiving should be a national holiday, so she picked up her trusty pen and wrote. She composed thousands of letters addressed to five presidents over thirty-eight years and was finally victorious when President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.
That might seem like a lot of information for children to process, but with its comical text and illustrations, this book does a wonderful job of engaging and inspiring young children. I stumbled upon this book as a school librarian and every time I read it to my students they were completely drawn into the story and amazed by Sarah Hale’s achievements. Inspired by Sarah Hale’s persistence and persuasiveness, I taught second-grade students the characteristics of a persuasive letter and then had them write their own letters trying to convince me to celebrate a made-up holiday in our library class. I was always impressed with the arguments they formulated in their letters and on the last day before winter break, we spent the entire Library class celebrating a number of silly holidays including Dance Like a Chicken Day, Book Lover’s Day, Joke Day, and Hoodie-Hoo Day. It became one of my favorite units of the year.
With Sarah Hale’s many accomplishments, it is hard to understand why she is not a household name. This is a woman everyone should know and read about. Share Sarah’s story and hopefully inspire a child in your life to take up a pen and fight for what they believe in.