Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun's Thanksgiving Story (Hardcover)
The Thanksgiving story that most Americans know celebrates the Pilgrims. But without members of the Wampanoag tribe who already lived on the land where the Pilgrims settled, the Pilgrims would never have made it through their first winter. And without Weeâchumun (corn), the Native people wouldn't have helped.
An important picture book honoring both the history and tradition that surrounds the story of the first Thanksgiving.
Garry Meeches Sr. (Anishinaabe) was born on the Long Plains reserve in southern Manitoba, Canada. His style is reminiscent of the plains style of art and evokes the Eastern Woodlands tradition. He lives in Connecticut, and this is his first picture book.
A Wamponoag grandmother plants her garden with weeâchumun (corn), beans, and squash, or the Three Sisters. When her grandchildren ask to hear the story of Thanksgiving, N8hkumuhs tells them that their people call it Keepunumuk, “the time of harvest,” and explains what really happened. The tale opens with Seagull warning Weeâchumun—depicted as a woman with a translucent body—of the Pilgrims’ arrival; Weeâchumun worries because many of the First Peoples who cared for her have gone to the Spirit World, and she fears this will be her last winter. Fox keeps an eye out and in spring tells Weeâchumun and her sisters that the newcomers endured a hard winter; many died. Weeâchumun and her sisters want to help: “We will send the First Peoples to help the newcomers.” The Wampanoag people teach the survivors how to plant corn, beans, and squash. The settlers hold a feast to celebrate the harvest; though it’s remembered by many as the first Thanksgiving, backmatter explains that because of the disease and warfare brought by the settlers, for the Wampanoag people, it is remembered as a day of mourning. Rich, saturated acrylics imbued with a touch of magic add to the vibrancy of this important, beautiful story.
A much-needed Thanksgiving retelling that centers the Wamponoag people. (glossary, information on the Wampanoag map, recipes) (Picture book. 3-7)
—Kirkus, starred review
This picture book features a contemporary Wampanoag grandmother and her grandchildren. N8hkumuhs shares the story of the Three Sisters—Corn, Beans, and Squash—and the first Thanksgiving, known as “Keepunumuk” by the Wampanoag people. The book transitions into a combination of history and storytelling about contact between the “First Peoples” and the newcomers. This format will be novel to some young children given the setting and timeframe of the story, though the book attempts to differentiate the parts that are the story by changing the typeface and including ethereal-like images of the Three Sisters. “Before You Begin” and “Important Words to Know” sections also provide context. Rich back matter includes more information about the Wampanoag tribes, a traditional recipe, and a photo and information about the real Maple and Quill, the grandchildren in the story. Overall, this story is a good addition for the historical knowledge of the first Thanksgiving from the Wampanoag viewpoint.
VERDICT: A good choice for libraries striving to share Indigenous perspectives
— School Library Journal
Opening sidebars contextualizing the Wampanoag tribes’ cultivation of their ancestral homeland and a glossary of Wôpanâak words is an edifying setup for this First Peoples narrative around Thanksgiving. While harvesting food from her garden, N8hkumuhs tells her grandchildren the tale of how the corn spirit Weeâchumun and her sisters, despite hesitance from watchful Fox, encouraged the First Peoples to teach European newcomers how to plant, fish, and hunt. In celebration, the newcomers prepared a feast and, together with the First Peoples, rejoiced for three days, leading to what most Americans call the First Thanksgiving, and “many of our people,” call a “day of mourning.” The creators’ poetic prose sensitively conveys the First Peoples’ lived history and foreshadows historical hardships to come. Meeches’s delicate brushstrokes, paired with bold swathes of earthen toned acrylic, add vibrancy. Additional information, including a traditional recipe, concludes. Ages 3–7.
— Publishers Weekly
“Many Americans call it a day of thanksgiving. Many of our people call it a day of mourning.” A team of Native creators provides a refreshing look at what the Wampanoag called Keepunumuk, or “the time of harvest,” highlighting that the Pilgrims’ survival was largely due to the assistance offered by the Indigenous people who lived on the land. In the framing narrative, an elder speaks to children about their ancestors, and how weeâchumun, the seed of corn and one of the Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash), witnessed the struggles of the newcomers. Using an earth-tone palette, the impressionistic illustrations beautifully convey their settings. Front and back matter include a glossary, a recipe, and more information about Wampanoag traditions, storytelling, and contemporary life.
—The Horn Book