[Image description: A book cover that features an orange sunset over purple hills dotted with fall colored trees. In the foreground a circle of smiling, brown-skinned people in jeans, long skirts, brightly colored sweaters, and denim button-up shirts walk in a circle around a small fire.]
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga written by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frane Lessac
From Goodreads: The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. Beginning in the fall with the new year and ending in summer, follow a full Cherokee year of celebrations and experiences.
This year we decided to go camping instead of celebrate Thanksgiving. I have mixed feelings about the holiday and my husband is not a holiday person so it worked out. While I like the idea of being grateful, I want a day to do it that doesn’t celebrate a flat out historical lie and that celebrates genocide. If you are like me (and us, because my husband agrees with the idea of not celebrating genocide), but do want to share books about gratitude with your children here is a phenomenal book to do that with.
For starters, this book celebrates contemporary Cherokee. So many. SO. MANY. kid’s books show Native Americans as something from the past. The stories are set in the past. Their clothing is historical. Their way of life is historical. And this translates into children believing that Native Americans are all gone. Which both erases their current struggles and oppression and continued colonial violence against them, as well as erasing their past struggle and resistance. These stories are never more prevalent than in November with the confluence of the Thanksgiving myth/lie and Native American Heritage Month. We Are Grateful shows Cherokee people today in clothes they would wear today. Sure, some of them are traditional looking and maybe they aren’t the street clothes a suburban, white mom or dad would wear, but they are clearly recognizable as people who are alive right now, celebrating. The settings are modern looking too, if rural or pastoral. It’s beautiful and modern and one of many stories we need showing Native Americans alive and unapologetically embracing their culture.
Second, this book is #ownvoices. It’s written by a member of the Cherokee Nation. This is an essential criteria for books that feature Native Americans. Yes, other people can write about Native Americans, but the books in which someone other than an Indigenous person writes a story about them without it being a total and utter travesty are few and very far between. I think in this case it is much better to ere on the side of caution and ensure your books about Native peoples are #ownvoices. Which isn’t to say those can’t be flawed (communities aren’t a monolith and there can be disagreement about representation), but you’re getting closer to having books that do the people justice.
Finally, the book is about gratitude in a lovely and organic way. It’s not about trips to Disneyland or scads of money. It’s not about one big meal once a year. It’s about the little things in life that make up a life well lived and appreciated. I am sucker for books that travel through the seasons and children’s books are often framed with this cycle. We Are Grateful shows us that there are things to be grateful for all year round.
Be sure to add this one to your bookshelves this season and read it throughout the year.