Jenny's Library

Thank You, Sarah, for Giving Thanks

Posted on: February 2, 2013

Laurie Halse Anderson is best known for her award-winning young adult and middle grade novels, particularly Speak, Wintergirls, Fever 1793, and Chains. She is also the author of a rather interesting non-fiction picture book (illustrated by Matt Faulkner) about Sarah Hale, a 19th century American woman who transformed Thanksgiving from a regional holiday into a national one.*

cover image for Thank You Sarah
This morning I received an email from the publisher of a book titled Sarah Gives Thanks, by Mike Allegra and David Gardner, celebrating its placement on the Amelia Bloomer List, an honor intended to indicate that the children’s or young adult book in question has “significant feminist content.”
cover image for Sarah Gives Thanks

Now, I haven’t had a chance to read this new picture book (the local bookstores sent their copies back after the holidays) so what I am about to say is informed solely by the covers as well as the fact that Hale, as I understand it, is hardly a well-known person to be writing about,** but…WOW.  If that cover is any indication of what is inside, I’m perplexed to say the least.  A bit annoyed and insulted too.

Anderson and Faulkner’s Thank You, Sarah frames Hale as a woman who engages in intellectual pursuits and commands respect.  The title casts Sarah as a hero and invites us to thank her for what she has done.  The patriotic symbols that surround her are everyday ones that Hale, as an American citizen (albeit a non-voting one) could claim as her own and her due.

The Amelia Bloomer honored title, according to its cover, focuses on Hale’s experience with the domestic pursuit of cooking and frames her actions as being grateful and offering domestic niceties to others.  The patriotic building in the background is one that symbolizes power held, in Hale’s time, only by men.  It is possible that the intent was to create a type of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” vibe, but the combination of target audience, title, and pumpkin pie does quite the opposite.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Thank You, Sarah was never honored by the Amelia Bloomer Project despite (as far as I can tell) being eligible for it.

Weird stuff happens, praise-worthy does not mean perfect, books aren’t always like their covers (although picture books certainly ought to be), it is (in very specific circumstances sometimes) possible to praise men for work that women have also done and not undermine feminist goals, it is very possible to praise women for traditionally feminine tasks and not undermine feminist goals, the apparently derivative nature of the second work may merely be a matter of coincidence and the subject matter, and I’m quite certain this was not at all a deliberate insult to Anderson by the Amelia Bloomer Project.

Still, I am totally giving the Amelia Bloomer Project the side-eye right now.  Also Allegra, Gardener, and Albert Whitman & Co.

*Hale was a rather fascinating person and not without flaws.  Raised by parents who believed in education for women as well as men, Hale went on to write and edit for major US publications.  She was critical of slavery but supported sending freed slaves to Liberia.  Also, she popularized a holiday that celebrates genocide. So.

**I’m hardly going to argue that Hale is worth only one picture book.  I just find a second book about her within the span of a decade an interesting choice considering both how well known the first author is and how many other wonderful women don’t have any picture books about them at all.

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