Prather’s Pick: ‘Sarah Gives Thanks’ relates story of how Thanksgiving became national holiday

Diane Prather/For Craig Press

Writer Sarah Josepha Hale is credited for turning Thanksgiving into a national holiday. She did lots of other things, too, such as helping turn Bunker Hill and Mount Vernon into national landmarks — all this while writing and editing. She even wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” the well-known poem for children. All this took place in the 1800s.

“Sarah Gives Thanks,” this week’s picture book for children (but adults will enjoy it, too), was written by Mike Allegra, a journalist, playwright, and magazine editor and illustrated by David Gardner, who has illustrated other children’s books as well.

When Hale was a young girl, her mother taught her to read books such as the plays of Shakespeare, the poetry of Milton and the stories of the Bible. Hale loved words, and she was eager to learn. Unfortunately, in those days, women didn’t go to college, as they were expected to be housewives and mothers.

Hale, however, didn’t give up. When her brother, Horatio, came home on college breaks, she read his textbooks, then quizzed him about the things she found there. It was as if she got a college education second-hand.

In 1818 Hale married David Hale. They read together, and he encouraged her to write. She submitted her poetry to magazines, and some of it was published.

The Hales raised a family of five children. When David Hale died in 1822, Sarah Hale had to work to keep her family going. None of the work — such as selling gaudy hats — was satisfying. In her spare time and at night, she wrote, and it paid off. Pretty soon, magazines began featuring her works for payment.

It put food on the table.

Hale published “Northwood,” a novel, and “The Genius of Oblivion,” a book of poetry. She was offered a position as editor of “Ladies’ Magazine” and eventually, as editor of “Godey’s Lady’s Magazine.”

(This week’s book provides interesting details as to her professional career.)

Along the way, she began thinking about Thanksgiving, probably because she was so thankful for her good fortune. Though Thanksgiving was celebrated, it wasn’t celebrated in all states — and not on the same date. So, Hale wrote about Thanksgiving. Then, she wrote to all kinds of people, asking for their support for a national holiday to be celebrated the last Thursday of November. She even wrote to four presidents, who ignored her.

But then, finally, after 36 years, a president did listen to Hale. What a remarkable woman she was!

The book includes an author’s note with more historical information about Hale and a list of sources used in writing the book.

“Sarah Gives Thanks” is published by Albert Whitman & Company (2012). The hardcover edition sells for $16.99. It is also available in the children’s room at the Craig branch of Moffat County Libraries.

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