The author, Traci Sorell, is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and in this book she shares how a Cherokee family and its community express thanks in all kinds of circumstances.
Cherokee words are included throughout, presented both phonetically and also written in the Cherokee syllabary, as you can see in the picture below. [A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent the syllables as well as phonological units which make up words.]
For example, the book begins:
“Cherokee people say otsaliheliga to express gratitude. It is a reminder to celebrate our blessings and reflect on struggles – daily, throughout the year, and across the seasons.”
Below this paragraph, the text reads:
“Otsaliheliga – oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah – [It then shows the Cherokee script for this phrase which you can see from the picture of the cover] – we are grateful”
Lush gouache illustrations by Frané Lessac accompany the text and depict the ways in which the community celebrates and expresses gratitude for change, growth, family members, traditions, and holidays. The first double page spread shows the arrival of the season of fall and the text informs us:
“When cool breezes blow and leaves fall, we say otsaliheliga….”
Similar examples of occasions calling for expressions of gratitude follow. Aspects of the culture, such as ceremonial foods and games, are incorporated into the pictures as well as the text.
“Every day, every season.
Otsaliheliga. We are grateful.”
Lessac often paints bright opaque colors on a dark background. The results, showing a creative application of colors not replicated in nature, are simply stunning. Art fans may be reminded of Paul Gauguin, with his experimental and non-representational use of the vivid colors he saw in French Polynesia; the influence of folk art on his style; and naivety of his figures. Lessac’s work is reminiscent of that school of art.
Sorell wanted not only to convey the panoply of happy events that families and communities celebrate during all four seasons. She also covers some of life’s more somber moments that are shared and commemorated. But these inclusions are crafted from such a positive perspective – e.g., “we gather to remember an uncle who has passed on” and “we embrace a clan relative heading off to serve our country” – that it shouldn’t disturb young readers in the least. On the contrary, it suggests new ways to think about upsetting things that could be seen as uplifting in a different light.
The families in the book look very diverse. Sorell and Lessac are teaching us that, as the author explained in an interview:
“The Cherokee Nation citizens cover the color spectrum, ranging from blonde hair with light skin to black hair with black skin — yet we are all from the same tribe.”
At the end of the book, there are some definitions, an Author’s Note on Cherokee culture, some background on the Cherokee syllabary, and a chart showing each symbol.
The author also refers readers to the Cherokee Nation website for more information.
Evaluation: Sorell portrays the Cherokee culture as one built on the strength of family and tradition, and on a respect for the earth that non-Indigenous people would do well to emulate. What a relief to see such a lovely alternative to the usual portrayals of Native Americans either as relics of the past or as failures of the present. This book has received a number of awards; highly recommended.
Published by Charlesbridge, 2018