Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #8

It's another chilly and blustery holiday in northern Michigan.  The skies are covered in shades of gray and white.  Snow blankets lawns, fields, floors of forests and roadways. The word thanksgiving is defined as 

the act of giving thanks and 
prayer expressing gratitude. (Merriam-Webster)

For each of the past seven years two titles reflective of thanksgiving have been featured here.  They can be found at Thanksgiving Treasures-Traditions, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #2, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #3, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #4, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #5, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #6 and Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #7.  They include books about the holiday, gratitude, family and food.  

This year in September and in October books were published recognizing a nation that is thankful throughout the year and asking us to look at each day as an opportunity to experience and focus on generosity.  We Are Grateful Otsaliheliga (Charlesbridge, September 4, 2018) written by debut picture book author Traci Sorell with illustrations by Frane Lessac presents readers with an intimate portrait of life for a Cherokee Nation family.  During the four seasons we walk beside them as they honor all aspects of their daily experiences.

Cherokee people say losaliheliga to express gratitude.  

In the autumn the Great New Moon Ceremony greets the Cherokee New Year.  It is a time for enjoying the shell shakers' dance as the air fills with the fragrance of burnt cedar.  Buckbrush and honeysuckle are collected for basket weaving in commemoration of those who suffered on the Trail of Tears.

Around the table during family dinners in winter elders spin their stories.  Children pass on skills to those younger than them; the making of corn-husk dolls and playing cane flutes.  Graves of those now gone are visited.  A father comforts a baby with a soothing melody 

in Tsalagi, Cherokee.

When spring gives birth to new life, songs ask for blessings and first growth is gathered for food.  Children learn to fashion pucker-toe moccasins and form clay to make pots.  When strawberries are planted it awakens the memory of a story about anger and forgiveness.

The heat of the summer sun encourages the growth of crops.  During the Green Corn Ceremony, the first produce is enjoyed at a feast.  Youth gather and play around a pole using sticks and a small ball. As this fourth season closes, the Cherokee National Holiday is observed; remembering the history of a people.  In all these days of the year gratitude is embraced. 

The heart of the Cherokee Nation beats in the words written by Traci Sorell.  She begins each season with a vivid descriptor followed by the words

we say they are welcome.

This is followed with lyrical phrases depicting scenes for each season.  Explanations and pronunciations of the Cherokee words appear beneath the narrative to assist readers.  She opens a door into beauty.  Here is a passage.

When showers fill streams and shoots spring up,
we say they are welcome. . .

. . . while men sing, asking for thunder and lightning's
protection of the emerging sprouts that women tend. 

Rendered in gouache on Arches paper all the images beginning with the opened and matching dust jacket and book case are vividly alive with color.  People gather in celebration in autumn with the landscape extending flap edge to flap edge.  To the left of the spine we are introduced to the family seen in every season.  The title text is raised enhancing the tactile impression. 

On the opening and closing endpapers we find a deep royal purple canvas.  Beneath the text on the title page the family is harvesting corn and pumpkins.  On the first page which acquaints us with the Cherokee people's use of otsaliheliga, the family walks by a tree.  The tree branches display all four seasons.

Illustrator Frane Lessac places the family's dog and a pileated woodpecker in many of the images which usually span two pages.  Careful readers will notice the children feeding beloved pets at the dinner table.  Each page turn asks us to pause and study individual elements.  The final picture is a marvelous blend of all seasons with the original tree as a focal point.   

One of my favorite pictures is on a single page framed by a fine blue line and white space.  Spring has arrived.  One group is located on the upper right side preparing a meal.  Four men are to the left of them singing.  Toward the bottom of the page a mother and daughter dig for wild onions.  The dog is digging to the left of them.  Green grass, new leaves on trees and blossoms on other trees signify the season.  Can you hear the woodpecker tapping nearby?

No matter how many times you read We Are Grateful Otsaliheliga written by Traci Sorell with illustrations by Frane Lessac, you will complete it with a sense of peace and a song in your heart.  It is a work of art in words and pictures highlighting the spirit of the Cherokee Nation.  At the close of the book are pertinent definitions, an author's note, a paragraph about The Cherokee Syllabary and the Cherokee Syllabary with explanations about vowel and consonant sounds.  I can't imagine a professional or personal collection without a copy of this title. 

To learn more about Traci Sorell and Frane Lessac, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  At the publisher's website you can watch the book trailer and download a teacher's guide, coloring sheets and a poster.   At another publisher's website  you can read an excerpt and view interior images.  Traci Sorell visits Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read.  Traci and Frane speak with teacher librarian Matthew Winner at All The Wonders for the book cover reveal.  They both talk at The Horn Book to answer five questions.  Traci is interviewed at M IS FOR MOVEMENT, KidLit 411, PictureBookBuilders and at author Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations.  I believe you will appreciate this review of this title by three Native youth at Indigo's Bookshelf.  Traci Sorell maintains an account on Twitter as does Frane Lessac.  Traci and Frane are also on Instagram.

If you were to walk through a specific neighborhood, in a specific city you might meet a very special woman.  Thank You, Omu! (Little, Brown And Company, October 2, 2018) written and illustrated by debut author illustrator Oge Mora is the story of this woman. Like the aroma of the stew she is cooking her generosity wafts among her neighbors.

ON THE CORNER of First Street
and Long Street, on the very top floor, Omu
was cooking a thick red stew in a big fat pot for
a nice evening meal.

As soon as she tasted it, she knew it was delicious; perfect for dinner. Omu then settled down to read a bit before suppertime.  Through the open window the smell of the bubbling stew traveled out and about the streets. 


At her door was a little boy.  He smelled something so wonderful, he needed to know what it was.  When Omu said it was her

thick red stew

he had to have a taste.  Knowing she made plenty, Omu gave a bowl to the boy.  He left carrying this delectable delight.

Soon there was another knock at her door.  It was a policewoman.  She smelled the stew, too.  Thinking about how much was in her pot, Omu gave away another bowl.  A happy woman left.

Another person came followed by someone else.  Omu barely was seated when there was a knocking at her door.  People from all walks of life came to Omu's place drawn by the enticing odor.  As darkness fell, Omu was ready to eat but she discovered her pot was empty.  Knowing she would not have a much-desired delicious dinner saddened Omu.


Someone was knocking and knocking on her door.  Who could it be?  When Omu opens her door, she realizes a compassionate heart feeds souls.  

As you read this book it implores you to read it aloud.  It asks you to share this story.  Oge Mora uses the repetition of words and phrases supplying readers with a storytelling rhythm.  It is a welcome invitation for audience participation.  A combination of narrative and conversation makes us feel as if we are one of the lucky neighbors in her community.  Here is a passage. 

"LITTLE BOY!" Omu exclaimed.  "What 
brings you to my home?"
"I was playing with my race car down the hall
when I smelled the most delicious smell," the 
little boy replied.  "What is it?"

"Thick red stew."

"MMMMM, STEW!" He sighed.  "That
sure sounds yummy."

One of the first things you discover on the opened dust jacket is the texture of the paper.  The matte finish exudes warmth.  The background extends from flap edge to flap edge.  The curl of the stew's aroma weaves from the bowl through the title text.  You know looking at the boy's face the smell is like a gift from heaven.

To the left, on the back, the scent of the stew moves from the pot being stirred by Omu.  It weaves to the left off the upper, left-hand corner of the flap to join the other flap on the right.  The book case in shades of blue-green highlights, on the right, a gift Omu receives from the boy.  

On the opening and closing endpapers Oge Mora has designed two different bird's-eye-view neighborhood scenes.  They are a marvelous blend of

acrylic paint, china markers, pastels, patterned paper, and old-book clippings

as are all the illustrations.  The double-page picture for the title page moves us close to the buildings on one of those streets.  Omu is walking to her home carrying a grocery bag.  Her pot is seen through one of the windows.  The story begins.

Each page turn reveals a picture which wraps around readers in cozy comfort.  The visuals all extend across two pages, varying in perspective.  These shifts in point-of-view place emphasis on appropriate portions of the text heightening the cadence and charm of this story.  Readers will notice Oge Mora includes the smell drifting on nearly every page.

One of my favorite illustrations is in Omu's kitchen.  Her table is covered in a patterned, green and white check cloth.  Her bowl, cup and spoon are on the left of the table.  Omu has brought the pot to the table.  She is ladling some stew.  The little boy is holding his bowl, waiting.  Another cup and spoon rest on the right.  There is love in this scene, much love.

As you read Thank You, Omu! written and illustrated by Oge Mora the heartwarming words and illustrations fill you from the top of your head to the tip of your toes and straight into your heart.  The generosity of Omu is contagious.  At the close of this story is an author's note.  I highly recommend this for your professional and personal bookshelves.

If you desire to learn more about Oge Mora and her work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At the publisher's website you can view a video book chat with Oge and read an essay she wrote.  Roger Sutton of The Horn Book chats with Oge Mora on a special video.  Oge is interviewed at Let's Talk Picture Books.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson shows us some art from the book at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Oge Mora talks with teacher librarian Matthew Winner at The Children's Book Podcast.  Oge Mora maintains accounts on Twitter and Instagram.

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