Check It Out: Give thanks for Thanksgiving tales




Jan Johnston is the Collection Development Coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at

It’s time to talk turkey: roasted turkey, turkey giblets, turkey gravy, turkey soup, turkey sandwiches — it’s all about the bird. Thanksgiving may be several weeks away — 25 days to be exact — but it’s not too early to start preparing for Butterball’s big day. You may not need to wade around a cranberry bog to get fresh cranberries, or harvest yams from the “back 40” so Aunt Elberta can cook up a batch of her special candied yams. But the convenience of modern-day supermarkets shouldn’t be an excuse for leaving Thanksgiving plans until the last minute.

Even if you’re not a traditionalist when it comes to turkey day (maybe you’re one of those lasagna or enchilada families; instead of ladling gravy on potatoes while the sound of football rumbles from the TV, your loved ones are grabbing a piece of garlic bread or spooning salsa over tortillas — it’s all good), you probably know something about the holiday’s history. If nothing else, you’ve keyed into the fact that Christmas is one short month from Thanksgiving. Sigh.

Well, let’s not worry about Dec. 25 just yet. Instead, try to focus on the food and symbolic significance of Thanksgiving — just 25 days away — and enjoy some turkey- and pilgrim-related reads from the library. The whole family can participate in a holiday read-a-thon, so take some time to peruse my suggestions below; and remember, there’s more where these came from.

• “Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War” by Nathaniel Philbrick

If the word “pilgrim” causes you to launch into a John Wayne imitation, my friend, you need to check out this book (available as an e-book, too). Not to disparage the Duke, but the real pilgrims put us on the map, and John Wayne, well, he wouldn’t have been able to say “pilgrim” if it weren’t for the pilgrims. The Plymouth Colony? It rocks.

• “Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well” by Sam Sifton

Celebrating T-Day with a frozen TV dinner? Well, my first piece of advice is to be sure and heat it up in the microwave. My second piece of advice is to consider a home-cooked meal prepared in your very own kitchen. Not fond of cooking? Hey, I get it. For all of us noncooks out there, fixing a full turkey dinner sounds about as achievable as climbing Mount Rainier (nonchef mountain climbers excluded, of course). Have no fear, Sam Sifton is here. A former New York Times restaurant critic, Sifton takes the angst out of Thanksgiving (which leaves you with “hkiving”) by counseling cooks of all levels to leave the fear behind.

• “Hello, Jell-O!: 50+ Inventive Recipes for Gelatin Treats and Jiggly Sweets” by Victoria Belanger

If you have an Aunt Elberta who brings the candied yams, and an Aunt Timothea who always brings the green bean casserole, chances are you have another aunt — or two — who contribute the Jell-O salads to the Thanksgiving meal. While there’s something comforting about an enduring menu, some dishes tranquilize diners with their unfailing appearance — e.g. the cranberry gelatin mold. Aunt Euphemia might “zip” it up once in a while with the addition of celery and walnuts, but times are a-changing, folks, and Jell-O can be so much more! Consider making friends with “Hello, Jell-O” and surprise your sweet aunt with a gelatin “Pomegranate Berry Salad,” or a spiked “Pina Colada” mold. She’ll bless your little heart.

• “Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving” by Kim Dean

Don’t leave out the little ones while counting down to Thanksgiving. The holiday may not be quite as exciting as Christmas, but it has its perks such as mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and hand-turkeys. If your little gobblers have never made hand-turkeys, grab the crayons, and show them how to trace the outline of their hands. Seriously, do it now. Be sure to affix the beautiful drawings to the refrigerator, then treat them to a reading of “Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving.” Felines know a thing or two about the pilgrims, so let Pete tell his story.

• “The Maverick’s Thanksgiving Baby” by Brenda Harlen

Who says getting ready for Thanksgiving leaves no room for romance? Actually, I’ve never heard anyone say that, but for the sake of this review, let’s pretend someone has. So, how does a turkey-day planner, hyper-focused on homemade rolls and lumpless gravy, make room for a little passion? By reading a romance novel, of course. In Brenda Harlen’s love-filled story, cowboy Jesse Crawford finds his heart beating fast for big-city lawyer Maggie Roarke. The local townspeople think it’s an odd pairing, but appearances can be deceiving, and with one thing leading to another, marriage and a baby soon round out the cowboy’s life. This Harlequin title will warm the cockles of your heart in just 220 pages, which means it’s a good book to save for the post-Thanksgiving evening. A tryptophan-induced stupor has a tendency to dampen passionate advances, so literary love is better than no love at all.

• “Beyond the Chicken: A Guide to Alternative Poultry Species for the Small Farm” by Kelly Klober

Finally, for poultry-lovers who wish they could pardon every turkey in America, I’m offering an easy-to-follow guide for raising your very own Butterballs, er, pet turkeys. Surprise your neighbors with mid-day gobble-gobbles instead of cluckety-clucks, and I guarantee hilarity will ensue. I know this because I live next door to a turkey tender, and every time the toms hear a loud noise, a chorus of turkey gobbles fills the air. I can’t resist gobbling back, so I’m pretty sure the neighbor thinks I’m a wacko. Anyhoo, turkeys just make life better, which is why you should consider turning your chicken coop into a turkey penthouse with the help of author Kelly Klober.

Jan Johnston is the collection development coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at