Today I’m thrilled to welcome debut author, Traci Sorell, to PBB to share her incredible new book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga (illustrated by Frané Lessac.) This lovely picture book releases today, September 4, from Charlesbridge. As an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Traci provides an authentic look at modern Native American life in this delightful book. Here’s a brief summary from the publisher—
“The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-le-gah) is used by Cherokee people to express gratitude. It is a reminder to celebrate blessings and reflect on struggles experienced throughout the year and across the seasons. Readers are given the opportunity to follow a group of Cherokee people through a full year of celebrations and experiences, including honoring the Great New Moon ceremony in fall, sharing stories in winter, planting food in spring, and celebrating the Cherokee National Holiday in summer.”
Interestingly, I first met Traci through Picture Book Builders when she won a manuscript critique after commenting on my Sept. 8, 2015 post. We met via Skype and I critiqued this very piece, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga. Now just 3 short years later, it’s releasing! What a wonderful (and fast) writing success story. And very encouraging!
Traci graciously shared her journey to her first picture book contract with PBB in a May 10, 2016 post, So it feels full-circle to welcome her back and ask a few questions about her publishing experience …
Question 1. As you went through the publishing process for the first time was there anything that surprised you or went differently than you’d imagined?
To be honest, I was surprised by how collaborative it is. I had hoped for that because I see We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga as a community created book; and, that’s what really happened. I am beyond grateful.
I’ve had a wonderful debut experience working alongside fellow Cherokee citizens, illustrator Frané Lessac, and the Charlesbridge staff – editor Karen Boss, art director Susan Sherman, marketing gurus Donna Spurlock and Mel Schuit, and the senior sales director Megan Quinn. Everyone has gone the extra mile to ensure that we are putting forward the best book we can now. It feels wonderful. But it started with you offering that free Skype critique through Picture Book Builders. Your feedback got me to revise and submit much sooner than I ever would have! So I’m extremely thankful for you.
Question 2. How did it feel as the illustrator, Frané Lessac, brought your story to life in full, glorious color?
Frané’s illustrations are amazing. I only had two expectations that I wanted met by the artwork. First, it needed to be colorful because it’s a four seasons book—so bright and not muted was what I pictured in mind. Second, the illustrations must be culturally accurate. I got my two criteria met and so much more! She brought so many additional layers to the text. Readers will enjoy studying the pictures. I find new details every time I look at them. I love how she inserted humorous elements with the pets.
Question 3. What hopes do you have for your lovely book as it releases out into the world?
I have a couple of hopes. First, I hope that Cherokee children will enjoy seeing their contemporary culture reflected in the book and want to learn and do all the things featured in the book, including speaking our language, if they don’t already. For other children, I hope it provides them a window into a culture they may not be too familiar with because the Cherokee and other tribal nations are mostly invisible in modern U.S. culture. We’re still here, yet most children aren’t taught that we exist after 1900—either in their own homes or at school.
Question 4. Please share a bit about the back matter and the Cherokee syllabary included in the book.
I love back matter! It’s usually my favorite part of a picture book. I wanted to make sure that regardless of who read We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga or had it read to them, there would be a context for my words. The definitions help flesh out cultural concepts, events and games presented in the book beyond what the text and artwork allow. My Author’s Note touches on the need for contemporary portrayals of the Cherokee Nation and others.
Inclusion of the Cherokee syllabary is important because most people do not know that Sequoyah invented a writing system of characters that represent each syllable in the Cherokee language. Previously Cherokee had only been an oral language. Once Cherokee people memorized the characters, nearly all became literate overnight. That led to the creation of our Cherokee Phoenix newspaper, which was key to communicating to Cherokee all over the ancestral homelands back east. The Cherokee Nation is working diligently to teach our children the language through its immersion school, utilizing elders and other adults to share their knowledge. I love to hear people speaking or singing in Cherokee.
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“A gracious, warm, and loving celebration of community and gratitude”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Perfect for holiday and family sharing”—School Library Journal, starred review
See the Book Trailer
Listen to an Author Podcast Interview
* * * * * * * * * * * * * Book Giveaway * * * * * * * * * * *
To enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, please leave a comment or question on this post. The lucky winner will be selected at random!
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Yay, Traci! So excited to see your book out! I love learning about culture and the impact of language!
Thanks, Beth! It feels great that it’s finally here.
You’ll find a link to the audio files of each Cherokee word on this book page: https://www.charlesbridge.com/products/we-are-grateful-otsaliheliga.
There are coloring sheets and a free classroom activity guide to download for free at: https://www.tracisorell.com/we-are-grateful-otsaliheliga/
Lovely! I’m so excited for this book! I love that you have included the pronunciation! Congratulations!
Wado (wah-doe), thank you, Angie!
You can hear each Cherokee word pronounced by clicking on the audio links found here: https://www.charlesbridge.com/products/we-are-grateful-otsaliheliga
SO excited to see this book in the world. Congratulations!
Congratulations, Traci! The book looks beautiful!
Wado (wah-doe), thank you, Linda!
Looking forward to reading this one! I love the colorful illustrations and the opportunity to learn about the Cherokee culture and language. Congratulations, Traci and Frané!
Wado (wah-doe), thank you, Judy!
This is why I love the PB genre. You get story, meaning, and art in one package. Looking forward to reading
Me too, Mitchell! There’s so much in every book. My favorite genre.
Congratulations, Traci, on your stunning book. What a debut! 🙂
Much appreciated, Jill! ?
This book looks amazing! Looking forward to reading it. Thank you for sharing the Cherokee culture
Wado, Rose! I hope you enjoy it.
Huzzah! Love this path to publication story Traci. Congratulations!
Wado, Cathy! I appreciate all your support this year.
What a wonderful book for the world! Thank you for sharing this beautiful culture and its sweet and timeless message! 🙂 Congrats!
Wado, Danielle! Much appreciated!
Congrats, Traci! It definitely takes more than a village to create a picture book, and I loved reading the story behind this one. Can’t wait to read it! 🙂
It does as you well know! I’m grateful for the team I had with me on this one. Wado, Maria!
Woohoo!!!! I feel so very grateful to have watched this process unfold for you, Traci. Congratulations.
Many thanks, my friend! Your support has meant the world to me.
This looks like an exciting and informative book. Congrats, Traci! The illustration with the tree showing multiple seasons is fascinating. I look forward to sharing this story with the youg people in my life, kids who love the chance to learn a big, new, impressive word.
Wado, Kathy. There are audio files on this page where you can hear each Cherokee word pronounced. https://www.charlesbridge.com/products/we-are-grateful-otsaliheliga
Also, there are coloring sheets and a classroom activity guide aligned to Common Core that are free to download from my website. https://www.tracisorell.com/we-are-grateful-otsaliheliga/
Congratulations, Traci, on an important and beautiful debut picture book!
Wado, Kate! Hope you enjoy it.
Thanks for sharing! I’m excited to learn more about the Cherokee culture.
Wado, Manju! The book is a great place to start. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
This book is gorgeous! Congratulations, Traci! I can’t wait to read it.
Wado, Becky! Frane’s artwork is simply amazing. You’ll relish every spread she’s created.
What a gorgeous book!
Wado, Lisa. I love Frane’s artwork. Look for the pileated woodpecker in each double page spread. Most adults miss it, but the kids almost never do.
What a wonderful message. We are grateful for such a meaningful book.
Wado, Debbie! I’m excited to share it with readers everywhere now.
I love the message of this book and have to read it for just the back matter alone. Learning about new cultures to get a better understanding of people is important to me. This book is gorgeous!
Back matter is my favorite! I think you’ll enjoy it, Danielle.
Congratulations! This book looks lovely.
This book is one that needs to be read! The message it conveys applies to everyone, and the illustrated cover is gorgeous.
Thanks, Debra! Gratitude is definitely a value shared across cultures and I think it’s helpful to learn how different cultures express it in daily life. Frane’s artwork inside is gorgeous!
This is a book that is needed today. The message applies to everyone and the cover is gorgeous.
My granddaughter would love this!
I bet she would! Finding the pileated woodpecker on each double page spread is also a hit with kids.
What a beautiful homage to the Cherokee nation! Thank you, Traci!
I’m going to put this one on my reading list immediately. Thank you!
I hope you’ll enjoy it, Sandy!
I love that you can listen to the Cherokee words so you can make sure you pronounce the words correctly. I often wished I knew if I was pronouncing words correctly as I read to my class.
Yes, I always think that’s important because it helps any reader actually learn how another language sounds.
Great interview! So looking forward to reading this book! ???
I love back matter too! I’m on the wait list for this at my library.
YAY for back matter! I’m so happy to hear that your library has ordered it. That means more readers will be able to find it.
This sounds terrific, and looks wonderful, too! Congratulations!!
So excited about this book! Planning to add it to my school library.
Wonderful, Sue! I appreciate your support. It makes my heart sing to think kids will be able to find it there.
I constantly teach my students about multiculturalism so this is just the type of book for our class!
Yes, I think it would be helpful. 🙂
Your book is beautiful and has such a good message for us all. I plan to buy copies for my great grandson’s classrooms. Congratulations! I’m so proud of you, my friend!
You are such a good friend, Kathleen. I’m thrilled to know that more children will be able to enjoy the book by you doing so. Once a teacher, forever a teacher. Wado!
What a wonderful concept for a book…and better yet that it is illustrated by the wonderful Frane Lessac!
Yes, she is a wonderful artist! I am so grateful for her art.
I was surprised to read in your comment that most people don’t know about Sequoyah. I forget that it is probably only in Oklahoma that most citizens know about him. Richard sold tons of Frankhoma trivets with him pictured on it and the alphabet around the rim. The story of his life was on the back. The most popular color sold was red.
So many people know nothing about him. I didn’t realize that. Thank you for sharing that, Juanita!
I’m looking forward to adding this book to my holiday collection!
Wonderful! There’s something in it for every season. Wado (thank you)!
This is wonderful…thank you so much for sharing! Can’t wait to read it!
Thank you, Katie! Hope you enjoy it.
Congratulations Traci. This is a complete package, picture book, illustrations, back matter, reintroduction to Cherokee culture, worksheets and tie ins to Common Core, being able to listen to the language. You inspire me.
Awww, wado (thank you), Cassie! This one is a heart book for me. So many wonderful things have come from making this book already. Can’t wait to read your books!!
Congratulations. I look forward to reading your book!
Wado (thank you), Jennifer!
What a wonderful story! I look forward to reading it and sharing it with my students.
I hope you all enjoy it!
I look forward toreading this book. I will consider it for a review onmy blog.
Wado (thank you), Susan!
Hi Susan! I was just thinking about you the other day and wondering how your story is coming along, or what else you’re working on. I’d be honored if you decided to review the book for your lovely blog. Thanks for stopping by!
This looks great, would love to read it to my daughters.
Wado (thank you), Meghan!
Lovely interview! How awesome that Suzanne helped you with this story which caused you to submit!
Wado, Tina! Yes, it would not be what it is without her input.
What a gorgeous–and important–book! Congratulations!
This is exactly the type of book we need today. There are so many misconceptions about Native Americans and how they live. I love how you incorporated the language as well. I am looking forward to sharing this book with my students.
Congratulations on your success, Traci! What a wonderful personal story and lovely picture book message.