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WE ARE GRATEFUL, Otsaliheliga, by Traci Sorell, Review by Alexis, 18, Eduardo, 18 and Ashleigh, 13

We have read this book many times since it was published in October 2018. It is a feast for the heart, eyes, voice and mind. Since we think it is a major work, that has already been awarded (and should receive further awards) and many of us have read and discussed it, we decided to do a group review.

Alexis: I heard a lot about this book before it was released. I was instantly intrigued by the concept of it and by the cover. The bright, distinctive artwork, the font of the title and, of course, the title in Cherokee and also in the Cherokee syllabary. I read it very quickly the first time. Probably because I was filled with expectation. I immediately thought it was beautiful and a much fuller book, with more information, than I had expected. I also thought the words and illustrations were a perfect combination.

Eduardo. You know I'm a wannabe filmmaker, so, yeah, I immediately recognized that the book was the whole package. Author and illustrator worked perfectly together. I really appreciated the close attention to detail in both. When Sorell writes about "elders [sharing] stories and we savor buttery bean bread and steamy hominy soup," the scene is depicted just as I'd imagine. I want to say the text and illustrations are 'simple,' but that's usually a negative. I also don't like saying 'folk art' or phrases like that. Because it's really quite complex. Especially when I look at picture books (not my favorite format) that Alexis brings home from work.

Alexis: 'Plain' may be better than 'simple.' But I also agree it's sophisticated. Some nonfiction picture books are unique works of art, and this is one of them. That's why I'm really pitching for it to win an award at ALA. Okay, we're shutting out Ashleigh...

Ashliegh: You are not shutting me out. I'm listening. And I don't have anything good to add.

Alexis & Eduardo: Yes, YOU DO! Remember how you were talking about how it goes through everyday life and the yearly cycle?

Ashliegh: Yeah, I liked the way the story went through the seasons, starting with fall. For some reason--maybe because 'thankful' is in the title, I thought it would be an all fall book. I loved the fall and winter parts, but I was really glad for spring and summer, because it's more like our life here in Florida.

Alexis: I know! Right? That one page in summer is where I came to a screeching halt, even the first time I was rushing through it, trying to take everything in.

Ashleigh: That's the page with the creek and the crawdads and...the Green Corn Ceremony!

[Note by Eduardo: Alexis and Ashleigh say 'crick.' I pronounce the ee's. Note by Alexis: Hmm.]

Alexis: YES! Because OMG, that's really us. You know, when I read Debbie Reese, Daniel Heath Justice, Alia Jones, Naomi Bishop, etc. talking about Native Lit, it seems they know about every Indigenous Nation, and all different ceremonies, customs, languages. I don't. I know this: where I live and who my family is. I mean, I once traveled to a Cherokee powwow in Georgia...

Eduardo: Think of how I feel! I was born in Miami. My father is Brazilian/ Pardo and my mom is Miccosukee. I go back and forth between cultures and languages.

Alexis: I know that can be hard on you. So we all feel that this book is something we can relate to personally as Florida Native teens, but it also teaches us Cherokee history, traditions and beliefs, and it is a book about current Native life in this country called US of A? Or am I reaching?

Eduardo: Hard and rewarding. I think the last is stretching. It is uniquely Cherokee. A generous gift for enrolled citizen Traci Sorell to share. Especially considering how many Cherokee pretenders there are. You have to be really brave to share this information, when you know others can steal its wisdom to strengthen false claims. But you know there are things she doesn't share, and that's important too.

Ashleigh: I like that it is a Cherokee book. I know I am not pronouncing the words correctly in Cherokee, but I try. Some of my favorite parts are The Great Moon Ceremony, which is on the cover. "As bears sleep deep and snow blankets the ground." I love bears! I really like this quote: men sing traditional lullabies in Tsalagi, Cherokee.
Eduardo: Yeah, that's awesome. Native dudes as comforters (and rocking the so-called 'man bun' for centuries).

Alexis: I love this: "as we plant ani, strawberries, an ancestral story's sweet-smelling reminder not to argue with each other. And, because of my Grandpa Joe, this tribute to Native servicemen: we embrace a clan relative heading off to serve our country.

Eduardo: I know why you were thinking it was a general Native message of thanks giving. Because of another book that's been in our lives every November since we were kids.

Alexis: Which one? Oh, I know what you are talking about! GIVING THANKS: A Native American Good Morning Message, by Chief Jake Swamp. You're right! I still like that book. It has value. But I like this one better. I think it's more distinguished, and I love that it's Nation specific.

Ashleigh: Is he a real person?

Eduardo: I just Googled 'Chief Jake Swamp and Debbie Reese.' The book is kosher, so to speak. Swamp is Mohawk. Sorry we doubted you, sir.

Alexis: What else do we want to say about Sorell's book, which we all cherish and we know many children will hear this story told at least once a year, like we heard (even memorized) Jake Swamp's book? It becomes a family tradition and part of your child's imagination.

Eduardo: It's been well-received, without Sorell selling out. That's not the right thing to say. Without compromising her educational and artistic vision. I think that's rare.

Alexis: It's been very well-received. Starred reviews. A prestigious Honor Award.  Making 'Best of 2018' lists.  I don't think most Native kidlit or YALit authors even have a chance to sell out! From what I've heard on Native Twitter, they don't get many chances, period.

Ashleigh: Looking at the book again, I feel happy and proud to be Indigenous. I feel strong, even in Trump's America.

Alexis: Let's leave it there!

Alexis, Eduardo and Ashleigh: Wado, Traci Sorell!

*Alexis: I transcribed this conversation. My transcription was copy edited by my mom, Gail, and approved by Ashleigh and Eduardo. It takes a clan to run Indigo's Bookshelf!


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