The Perfect Thanksgiving

One of my favorite Thanksgiving books is Eileen Spinelli’s The Perfect Thanksgiving. JoAnn Adinolfi illustrated it with bright colors and primitive drawings with mixed media collage. It is the story of two different Thanksgiving celebrations: the perfect holiday of Abigail Archer, and the imperfect one of the narrator.

“Abigail Archer’s father serves white meat all around.
Everyone takes dainty bites, and no one makes a sound.”

In contrast,

“My grandpa chews the gizzards, my brother chomps the wings,
My sister slurps. My uncle burps. And Aunt Clarissa sings.”

The differences are detailed throughout the book, and it finishes up with,

“But we’re alike in one way, the nicest way by far–
alike in just how loving our different families are.”

The book, told in rhyme, is a fun read-aloud and a great way to kick off discussions about modern celebrations of Thanksgiving.


  • I like this book for introducing the concept of compare/contrast essays. There’s an introduction, focusing on the idea of perfection in families. There’s a good series of comparisons, using lively language and details. Then there’s a conclusion wrapping it up and returning to the idea of perfection in families.
  • It’s equally good for descriptive writing. The lace tablecloths, people playing chess, and pristine bottles of shampoo in the guest rooms contrast perfectly with the guests sleeping in the kitchen, children jumping on the furniture, and people snoring. Have a student scribe list all the lively verbs, specific nouns, and telling adjectives in the book. Note how the swirls of whipped cream on homemade pies bring to mind a completely different image from the Jell-O mold quivering on the floor.
  • I also like the way the comparisons stand on their own, without requiring “in comparison,” “unlike the first family,” and other weakening transitions. It’s good to teach our students transitions, but sometimes they become crutches.


  • Most of the differences between the two families can’t be chalked up to income levels. Taking a walk and playing chess cost no more than napping, and less than watching TV. But older students may enjoy debating whether there is a socioeconomic class difference between the two families.
  • Where do the images of the “perfect Thanksgiving” come from? Have students find pictures in magazines. Is it a consumer-driven expectation? Does the image of the perfect holiday encourage consumers to spend more than they otherwise would, in an effort to create that perfection? Does it lead to disappointment and dissatisfaction with our real lives, thus fueling Black Friday overconsumption? This can be a thought-provoking writing prompt.
  • If you look at the way that unrealistic expectations create holiday stress, you can’t skip discussion of Instagram, Pinterest, and other aspirational social media. There is some research suggesting that social media makes people feel bad about their own lives, since they compare them with the unnaturally perfect images in influencer’s presentations of their lives.

Critical Thinking

  • You’ll certainly want to use your Venn diagrams to compare the two families.
  • The author concludes that loving families are the most important thing about Thanksgiving, and that both the family that burps and hollers and the family that shares toys are equally loving. Find evidence in the book — in the words or the illustrations — to support that claim.
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