age range: 4-8 years
format: picture book
Elaine Vickers’s website
printable activity guide
Thankful book trailer
Charming, engaging…a visual delight.
— Kirkus Reviews
Please tell us about your book.
If Thankful were a song, it would be “What a Wonderful World.” The story is a lyrical narrative about gratitude based on a tradition from my own family. When winter comes, we each write down the things we’re thankful for on strips of paper, make a paper chain with them, then read a link of the chain each day as the new year approaches. At its core, Thankful is celebration of family, the beauty of the natural world—and what a wonderful thing it is to be part of it all.
What inspired you to write this story?
It’s funny—even though Thankful comes from a tradition in my family, that’s not where it started. The tradition itself is actually one that I made up for the main character to do with her family in one of my middle grade novels, Paper Chains. It wasn’t until my editor asked whether I’d gotten the idea from my own experience that it even occurred to me that this was something I could do with my actual children in real life! So, of course, we started that very year, and a few of their cousins joined in.
What sets this book apart and makes it truly unique?
While I’m proud of the text of the book, even I am quick to affirm that the art is the best part. When I heard that 3-D illustrator Samantha Cotterill had signed on to the project, I’m embarrassed to admit that my first thought was, “Does that mean it will be a pop-up book?” Of course, Sam’s art is even more magical than that. She builds each set and lights it and photographs it, and those become the illustrations. One of the most magical aspects of her work to me, though, is that she creates these incredible pieces using things like house paints and cereal boxes, and she leaves just enough imperfection for kids to look at the illustrations and think, “I bet I could do that.”
Thankful seems to take place both in a single evening and over the course of an entire year. How did you come up with the text for this story?
As I was writing the text for this story, I thought back to the things my own kids had written on their thankful chains. Some were general, others were personal and very specific, and so many of them were surprising—yet universal. That’s what I hoped to capture in the book: the things we all have to be grateful for, regardless of our circumstances. A dear friend told me that the words have been almost like a meditation to her, helping her through a difficult period as she remembers to be “thankful for a heart that beats . . . and every breath, in and out, in and out.”
Of course, the goal was to write an appealing and authentic story, first and foremost. But if it can help kids develop a sense of gratitude and maybe even practice gratitude in their own lives (which has been shown to make us happier and healthier!), I would be thankful for that indeed.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
Gratitude, of course, which is perfect for this time of year—or any time of year! I can also envision classroom connections to art and engineering as students create their own scenes, language arts as students write their own thankful chains, and character education as they discuss gratitude and awareness of the good things in their lives. We do have some great resources to go along with the book as well, including a printable activity guide and a fabulous trailer (81 seconds guaranteed to brighten your day—just listen to those kids’ voices!) It’s been amazing to watch the photos and videos already of teachers who are reading the book and making thankful chains to decorate their classrooms. It’s pretty much my favorite thing ever! And, as a bonus, you can read Paper Chains too for a perfectly-paired middle grade read aloud!
Steve Cromwell says
When I saw that cover I was like, that’s neat. You know, great color and charm. And then I saw the chair was made of paper, and then I was scanning the rest, like, wait… she made ALL of that? What a cool look it has.
And I agree about the benefits of gratitude. Before bed I used to list off five things I’d gotten done that day, but then I switched it to five things I’m grateful for each day, and it’s a much healthier feeling.