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We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga Book Poster Image
Warm celebration of Cherokee families' year-round gratitude.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Cherokee words and pronunciations. Cherokee syllabary. Importance in Cherokee culture of expressing gratitude. Trail of Tears. Cherokee people originally came from southeastern United States but now majority live in Oklahoma. There are seven tribal clans. Great New Moon Ceremony. Cherokee New Year begins in fall. Using gigs to catch crawdads. Stomp dances and shell shakers. Cherokee Green Corn Ceremony for season's first corn harvest. Stickball played for sport and before tribal ceremonies. Cherokee National Holiday commemorates 1839 signing of Cherokee Constitution. Ripe Corn Festival. Ancestral story of "First Strawberries." Traditional Cherokee culture is mother centered. Some foods: bean bread, hominy soup, wild onions with hen's eggs, crawdads. Corn-husk dolls, cane flutes. Making pucker-toe moccasins and coiled clay pots. Weaving baskets from buckbrush and honeysuckle.

Positive Messages

It's important to practice gratitude all year long. Families and communities come together to celebrate holidays and shared history. It's important to commemorate those who have passed on, and remember the sacrifices Native ancestors made "to preserve our way of life." The New Year provides the opportunity to forget old quarrels. Reminder not to argue with each other. We can care for and "feed our animal and bird friends." Implicit message of living in harmony with nature and seasons.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Contemporary Cherokees practice gratitude throughout the year. Community gathers to celebrate Cherokee National Holiday and listen to tribal leaders speak, also for traditional seasonal celebrations. Indigenous dad pictured cuddling baby and singing traditional lullabies, wearing apron and cooking. Characters work with natural materials to make things -- clay for pots, buckbrush and honeysuckle for baskets, corn-husks for dolls, cane for flutes. Families pictured working together to plant, catch food, and enjoying each other at picnics and other outings. Relative in military uniform heads off for service to country.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga is a book about gratitude as practiced by the Cherokee people, written by Traci Sorell, an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation who lives in northeastern Oklahoma, where the tribe's based. The book's been widely praised for its realistic depiction of present-day Cherokee families and their contemporary culture and celebrations. It sprinkles the text with Cherokee vocabulary, as well as bits of history, referencing the Trail of Tears and the 1839 signing of the Cherokee Constitution. The core Cherokee value -- the daily expression of gratitude -- is accessible and helpful for all.

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What's the story?

In WE ARE GRATEFUL: OSTALIHELIGA, Cherokee people say "Ostaliheliga," to express gratitude daily and throughout the four seasons. In the fall, Cherokee New Year, they gather for the Great Moon Ceremony, dance with shell shakers, remember "our ancestors who suffered hardship and loss on the Trail of Tears," and collect brush for weaving baskets. In winter, elders share stories as families eat bean bread and hominy soup, and older kids teach younger ones to make cornhusk dolls and play cane flutes. In spring, men sing to ask for protection for the crops, and kids plant strawberries, gather wild onions, and make moccasins and clay pots. In summer, families catch crawdads and gather for the Green Corn Ceremony and the Cherokee National Holiday.

Is it any good?

All readers can be grateful for the authentic Cherokee representation in this book celebrating contemporary families and their daily, year-round practice of gratitude. If books for kids about Native Americans have been predominantly historical, set pre-1900, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga provides a welcome current representation. It's nation specific, written by an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, so Cherokee readers will recognize themselves and their families, and other readers can meet relatable kids who are pictured riding bikes, playing in a tree house, launching toy sailboats, and making a snowman, as well as families that gather for picnics, holiday meals, and celebrations.The book is structured around the four seasons, starting with fall, which we learn is the Cherokee New Year, as well as the time of the Great New Moon Ceremony.

The mesh of educational information with everyday detail is an easy weave, and the book includes Cherokee words, and a friendly pronunciation guide, as well as a Cherokee syllabary, and a page of "Definitions" that explain some concepts, such as the Trial of Tears, more fully. The art, by Frené Lessac, is brightly colored and appealing, and the book's message -- that it's important to give thanks, "to celebrate our blessings and reflect on struggles" -- is universal.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the gratitude practiced in We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga. Do you and your family have ways to regularly express gratitude? What are you thankful for? Can you make your own list that goes through the seasons?

  • Do you and your family celebrate any holidays that are specific to your community? Did your ancestors have hardship and make sacrifices that you honor today?

  • Do the families in the book represent you and your community? In what ways are they similar?

  • Did you know about the Trail of Tears? How did so many people from the Cherokee nation end up in Oklahoma if they were originally from the southeastern United States?

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