Children’s Book News: November 2020

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell and illustrated by Frané Lessac

Suggested ages:  3-8 years

Traci Sorell, born and raised in the Cherokee Nation, has created a lovely tribute to the Cherokee people as she shares their gratitude for the blessings of each season. 

Beginning with fall, the time of the Cherokee New Year, the young reader is introduced to tradition’s unique to Sorell’s people such as the Great New Moon Ceremony and the Green Corn Ceremony.  Their feelings of thankfulness relate to the world of nature about them and their close ties with family and community.  

With contemporary settings, we learn of children making corn-husk dolls in winter, sewing pucker-toe moccasins in spring and playing the stickball game in summer. At the same time, gratitude is expressed for the common experiences which connect us all – a new baby, remembering a deceased relative, playing in the snow, and sharing meals and stories with family. 

Lessac’s colorfully painted folk -like illustrations provide added detail to the sparse text. Each is worthy of careful examination in order to learn about the fauna and flora of the Cherokee Nation as well as to gain a more complete picture of their traditions.

Supplemental material at the book’s end includes additional information regarding Cherokee ceremonies and customs and also the Cherokee syllabary (occasional words in the text are written in the Cherokee language) as well as an author’s note.  We are Grateful not only is a window into the Cherokees of today but also a reminder of the small moments in life which bring gratitude to us all.

Gracias, Thanks by Pat Mora and illustrated by John Parra

Suggested ages: 3-8  years

The objects of our gratitude reflect who we are. In the bilingual book, Gracias, Thanks, we are introduced to a young boy who shares with the reader the many small moments of his days for which he is thankful. Sometimes it is nature’s gifts – the sun of daybreak, a flying ladybug, or crashing ocean waves that evoke feelings of gratitude.  Often it is a memorable time with family or friend – ones that induce laughter or stimulate feelings of comfort and togetherness. 

The arc of the boy’s day is warmly portrayed from his waking to the morning sun to the sound of crickets serenading him to sleep.  Parra’s colorful acrylic paintings are meant to be poured over by a child reader for there is so much to discover in each scene.  Gracias, Thanks is perfect for a slow read, taking time to reflect upon each double page spread – its words and pictures.  Then naturally flowing from the reading and sharing of this book, children might think on all that they are thankful for.   It could be a perfect read for Thanksgiving Day.

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets Selected and Introduced by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth and illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Suggested ages: 8-12 years

Kwame Alexander, author of the 2015 Newbery Winner, Crossover, and the 2020 Newbery Honor Book, The Undefeated, has created a magnificent tribute to poetry. In so doing, he has selected twenty of his favorite poets for this stunning book. The poets come from a variety of backgrounds and time periods. In addition, all have met Alexander’s criteria, along with that of his collaborators, Colderley and Wentworth: the poets must be interesting individuals as well as be poets who have created poetry for which all three are fervently enthusiastic.

But rather than simply selecting pieces written by these poets and reprinting them on the book’s pages, the three authors have created their own poems which are tributes “to the poets being celebrated by adopting their style, extending their ideas, and offering gratitude to their wisdom and inspiration.” This volume is truly unique in its approach for highlighting and sharing poets and their writings. 

Its three sections focus on poetic style “Got Style?”, a poet’s background “In Your Shoes” and finally the perspective and the emotions that are stimulated when reading particular poems “Thank You.”  Poets as varied as Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Mary Oliver and Chief Dan George are only four of the twenty celebrated poets.

Accompanying the poems, are the striking mixed media collages of Ekua Holmes. Each of her creations is in itself a celebration of imagination and perception.  One might think of this volume as a “coffee table book” for it is one that beckons continued reading and examination.  Perhaps it may even inspire young people to play with words to create their own poetic celebration.

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