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(Many Paths)
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Sorell Wins 4 American Library Association Awards
by Will Chavez - Assistant Editor Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee author Traci Sorell's love for children's picture books that feature Native people, history and culture inspired her to write her first picture book, "We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga," which continues to win awards. COURTESY

PHILADELPHIA – Three books and an audiobook written or co-authored by Cherokee Nation citizen Traci Sorell won four American Library Association awards at its mid-winter meeting held Jan. 24–28 in Philadelphia.

"We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga" won the 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Award-Picture Book Honor; "At the Mountain's Base" won the 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Award-Picture Book Honor; "Indian No More" won the 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Award-Middle School Book Winner; and the "We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga" audiobook won the 2020 Odyssey Honor Award.

"I now write for a living," Sorell said. "Words shouldn't be hard to come by. But I can't describe what I'm feeling except to say I'm grateful. I haven't slept well since the calls came in about recognition I'd receive at the American Library Association's mid-winter conference."

"We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga" and "At the Mountain's Base" were one of only two picture books selected. "We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga" guides readers through the seasons in a contemporary Cherokee community, incorporating Cherokee vocabulary and syllabary. Otsaliheliga expresses gratitude and reminds readers to celebrate and reflect on life's blessings and challenges. Illustrator Frané Lessac's artwork enhances the book's celebration of culture, family, community and life.

Three books and an audiobook written or co-authored by Cherokee Nation citizen Traci Sorell won four American Library Association awards on Jan. 27 in Philadelphia. COURTESY

"At the Mountain's Base" focuses on a Cherokee family awaiting the return of its kin serving as a pilot in World War II. Award-winning comics graphic artist Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva) illustrated the book. The book's afterword summarizes the achievements of Native women in the armed forces and mentions the military career of Ola Mildred Rexroat, a Lakota pilot who served in World War II and the Korean Conflict.

Charlene Willing McManis (Umpqua/Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde) wrote "Indian No More" with Sorell. Artist Marlena Myles (Spirit Lake Dakota, Mohegan, Muscogee Creek) created the cover art.

The book is set in Oregon and southern California in the late 1950s and follows the main character, Regina, and her family's exodus from Umpqua tribal lands. The Umpqua are a part of the Confederate Tribes of Grande Ronde in Oregon, a consortium of 27 tribes that were relocated after the government terminated tribes with the intent of assimilating Native people into mainstream society.

After meeting in 2016, Sorell said McManis contacted her to ask her to finish the book. McManis feared she could not finish it because she had cancer.

"It took the wind out of me, and I just couldn't really process it," Sorell said. "If you knew Charlene she was one of most joyful, wonderful people you could ever meet. She just radiates love and joy and light all of the time."

Sorell thanked the American Indian Library Association's Youth Literature Awards Committee for the awards.

"Both picture books received honor awards and the novel with my dear friend Charlene won their middle school category. Having Native librarians evaluating and honoring the work means the world to me," she said.

The audiobook for "We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga," was produced by Live Oak Media. CN citizens Tonia Hogner-Weavil, Ryan Mackey, Agalisiga "Choogie" Mackey and Lauren Hummingbird were part of the cast that narrated that book.

Sorell said she is "honored" by the work of the Cherokee cast.

"It takes a village to produce a book, starting with my family and friends who support this new path and fellow creatives who provide feedback and support," she said. "Again, I appreciate the love and support. I look forward to creating more books and encouraging more people to share their stories."

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