The Perfect Thanksgiving, by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by JoAnn Adinolfi

Eileen Spinelli is the wife of award-winning children’s and young adult author Jerry Spinelli, and she is well-known in her own right; this is just one of her more than fifty books for young children. GirlChild also loves Callie Cat, Ice Skater, and I’ve got my eye on Baby Loves You So Much, so it wasn’t hard to choose this Thanksgiving-themed book off the holidays shelf at the library!

The Perfect Thanksgiving, by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by JoAnn Adinolfi
(2003, Henry Holt, ISBN 0-8050-6531-8)

Abigail Archer’s family has a picture-perfect Thanksgiving, but the narrator’s family quite clearly does not! While pretty much everything about these two families and their celebrations seem to be different, one thing is the same: their families are full of love!

This book tells the tale of two Thanksgivings, using rhyming verse to contrast Abigail Archer’s perfect family celebration and the narrator’s chaotic one. The mood and vocabulary used in each section changes to fit the atmosphere of the house (words like “dainty” and “organdy” for the perfect house and “slurps” and “a-quivering” for the narrator’s home), and the humor of the contrast can be played up when reading aloud through exaggerating changes in pace and tone when alternating between reading about the two families. A quick read-through before reading aloud to your child might be useful to get the rhythm down for a flawless performance, but it’s simple enough to adjust to as you’re reading if you’re relatively comfortable with typical poetry for children. (The meter is definitely not the stressed-unstressed pattern that some of the more contrived children’s poetry sometimes has, but it’s not overly complex either.) The story itself proceeds through the typical family meal, the post-meal activities of adults and children, and finally the overnight stay of out-of-town guests. It ends with the conclusion that, although the families are very different, they are both “ultra perfect” at loving.

The illustrations, done in gouache (I had to look it up, too!), colored pencil, and collage, remind me a little bit of Lane Smith’s work with Jon Scieszka in books like Math Curse (although much brighter and friendlier for younger eyes). Cartoonish characters are mixed with realistic elements (such as much of the food and fabrics and other items that require a specific texture) that give the appearance of being cut from magazines and glued into the image. (That would be the collage element, I’d guess.) Slightly warped perspective and bright colors make the illustrations very fun, and there is a LOT to look at on each page. Throughout the book, illustrator Joann Adinolfi features two turkeys that represent each family: a funky-looking hand turkey for the narrator’s family and a traditional live turkey for the “perfect” family.  They pop up randomly throughout the book as a part of the crazy collage, and they often have something to say (in speech bubbles) or are engaged in doing whatever the characters on the page are doing at the time. (Kids love looking for these recurring minor characters in books, and many illustrators include them to get readers really looking at the art.) The artist also includes several charts and diagrams interspersed throughout the scenes of family life to illustrate the differences between the families. Although the pages are very, very busy, the art accompanies the text really well as it gives the impression of being done by the child narrator as a part of telling her story.

GirlChild’s Reactions: GirlChild was more than willing to make hand turkeys after reading this book, although they mostly ended up looking like witches’ hands instead because she decided just to put a green tuft of “feathers” at the end of each finger to partially imitate the crudely-drawn hand turkeys in the book. She makes faces on her drawings of people, but apparently the profile drawing of a turkey didn’t warrant a face.  (She talked about the beaks, but she got distracted by wanting to write “great grandma” on one of them, so she never got around to drawing any.) I think she’s a little too young to really remember much about Thanksgiving dinners (which we’ve eaten at our pastor’s house since she was born since we moved a thousand miles from family when she was two months old), and the kids in her church classes are also too young to talk much about their different family celebrations, so some of the story was lost on her, but she seemed to enjoy the book anyway. We read Eve Bunting’s A Turkey for Thanksgiving later on, and she wanted to reread that one a couple times.  She seemed to get more of what was going on (that the turkey was hiding from the other animals because he thought they wanted to eat him) in the Bunting one, so maybe The Perfect Thanksgiving is better used as an easy read for older kids (or a class read-aloud) where they would have a greater experience with which to make connections and might be more impacted by the message of the book.  This is a book that I wish I had with me when I was teaching fifth grade to read to my students who might have struggled with envy regarding their “perfect” classmates and could have used the reminder that as long as you’re loved and loving, none of the rest of it matters.

(Eileen Spinelli has also written a book about kids with deployed family members–While You Are Away–which I thought was a timely one to bring up this Veterans’ Day weekend. I didn’t have this one on hand to review, however, but it looks like a good one! Many thanks to all who have served or are serving!)

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