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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Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade is the author of more than 100 books. A mechanical engineer by degree, she enjoys writing about science topics and fascinating historical figures. Recent books include: SWISH! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters, A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, The Daring Dozen, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, Astronaut Annie, Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, Dangerous Jane, The Music in George's Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue, The Inventor’s Secret, and Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Coming soon -- MARS IS, JUNE ALMEIDA VIRUS DETECTIVE! THE WOMAN WHO DISCOVERED THE FIRST HUMAN CORONAVIRUS, THE UNIVERSE AND YOU, and TBA titles from Calkins Creek, Peachtree, and Random House. Learn more about Suzanne and her books at: www.suzanneslade.com


  1. Yay, Traci! So excited to see your book out! I love learning about culture and the impact of language!

  2. Lovely! I’m so excited for this book! I love that you have included the pronunciation! Congratulations!

  3. SO excited to see this book in the world. Congratulations!

  4. Congratulations, Traci! The book looks beautiful!

  5. 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!

  6. This is why I love the PB genre. You get story, meaning, and art in one package. Looking forward to reading

  7. Congratulations, Traci, on your stunning book. What a debut! 🙂

  8. This book looks amazing! Looking forward to reading it. Thank you for sharing the Cherokee culture

  9. Huzzah! Love this path to publication story Traci. Congratulations!

  10. What a wonderful book for the world! Thank you for sharing this beautiful culture and its sweet and timeless message! 🙂 Congrats!

  11. 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! 🙂

  12. Woohoo!!!! I feel so very grateful to have watched this process unfold for you, Traci. Congratulations.

  13. 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.

  14. Congratulations, Traci, on an important and beautiful debut picture book!

  15. Thanks for sharing! I’m excited to learn more about the Cherokee culture.

  16. This book is gorgeous! Congratulations, Traci! I can’t wait to read it.

  17. What a wonderful message. We are grateful for such a meaningful book.

  18. 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!

  19. Congratulations! This book looks lovely.

  20. Congratulations, Traci,

    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!

  21. Congratulations, Traci!

    This is a book that is needed today. The message applies to everyone and the cover is gorgeous.

  22. My granddaughter would love this!

  23. What a beautiful homage to the Cherokee nation! Thank you, Traci!

  24. I’m going to put this one on my reading list immediately. Thank you!

  25. 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.

  26. Great interview! So looking forward to reading this book! ???

  27. Jennifer Lane Wilson

    I love back matter too! I’m on the wait list for this at my library.

  28. This sounds terrific, and looks wonderful, too! Congratulations!!

  29. So excited about this book! Planning to add it to my school library.

  30. I constantly teach my students about multiculturalism so this is just the type of book for our class!

  31. 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!

  32. What a wonderful concept for a book…and better yet that it is illustrated by the wonderful Frane Lessac!

  33. 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.

  34. I’m looking forward to adding this book to my holiday collection!

  35. This is wonderful…thank you so much for sharing! Can’t wait to read it!

  36. 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.

  37. Congratulations. I look forward to reading your book!

  38. What a wonderful story! I look forward to reading it and sharing it with my students.

  39. Thanks Suzanne,
    I look forward toreading this book. I will consider it for a review onmy blog.

  40. This looks great, would love to read it to my daughters.

  41. Lovely interview! How awesome that Suzanne helped you with this story which caused you to submit!

  42. What a gorgeous–and important–book! Congratulations!

  43. 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.

  44. Congratulations on your success, Traci! What a wonderful personal story and lovely picture book message.

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