My inspiration for writing the book stemmed from finding few modern portrayals of my tribe, the Cherokee Nation, among children’s books to share with my son. I read Joanne Rocklin’s fictional I SAY SHEHECHIYANU, illustrated by Monika Filipina (Kar-Ben, 2015) and found a great mentor text with the structure and concept I liked. It follows a child’s first experiences through the four seasons as a new sister, going to school, etc., with her saying the Jewish blessing “Shehechiyanu” each time something new is experienced.
While there is not an equivalent blessing in Cherokee that is said each time something new is experienced, there is a culture of expressing gratitude daily and throughout the seasons. So I wrote a nonfiction picture book that starts in fall when the Cherokee New Year occurs, similar to many other cultures and some religions like Judaism. It shows contemporary Cherokee people – families, children and elders - expressing gratitude for the blessings but also the challenges they encounter.
Otsaliheliga [oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah] is the English phonetics for “we are grateful” in Cherokee. While the book is in English, it will feature some Cherokee words written in the syllabary developed by Sequoyah to accompany the oral language. I am happy to have the language included in the book so any child can compare it to how words are presented in English or other languages.
One of the things I am most grateful for about this book is that it exemplifies that it takes a community to create a book. While I may have had the initial idea and written that down, the story and artwork has been reviewed and vetted by fellow Cherokee citizens because no one person is the sole voice for a culture. I cannot wait to share this book with children everywhere next fall.