Texas Book Festival Q&A with Traci Sorell

Traci Sorell is the author of the picture book We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga.

TBF: Why did you write your new book? What was your inspiration?

Traci Sorell: I decided to start writing for children in the summer of 2013 when my son was three. I had collected picture books since the early 1990s, particularly those featuring Indigenous people and cultures. Having cycled through my collection and those at the local library, I could not find any trade-published contemporary picture books featuring Cherokee children to read to my young son.

This concerned me because the Cherokee Nation is the largest tribe in the U.S. with over 360,000 enrolled citizens. How could I not find a picture book about our present day life and culture to share with my son? It made me think that other Cherokee parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents must be facing a similar problem. Then I also concluded that non-Cherokee families as well as teachers and librarians encountered this same challenge.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga centers on the universal value of gratitude as taught and experienced by Cherokee people across the four seasons. Our elders and families teach us to be grateful for our culture, good things that happen and also struggles we experience. Through expressing gratitude for difficulties, we learn resiliency as well as interdependency, the need to ask for help and extend it to others too. The nonfiction book provides a contemporary look at our lives today.

TBF: What’s the last book you read, loved, and can’t stop recommending? Why is it so good?

TS: Mi Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero and illustrated by Zeke Peña. The story centers on a young girl’s daily motorcycle ride with her dad through their town when he comes home from work. Quintero weaves the town’s history with people, places and events into this story about a daughter and father seeing the changes in their community as they spend time together. It reminded me on my childhood hometown, motorcycle rides with my own father and how I’ll always have those memories despite everything that has changed in that place and in our lives since then.

TBF: What’s the first book you remember reading? Who gave it to you?

TS: I don’t remember one specific book, but I’m sure it was a Little Golden book. My mother always bought those for me. I still have most of them that my younger siblings and I read as children.


Traci Sorell is one of 300 authors who will appear at the 2019 Texas Book Festival which takes place October 26-27th 2019 in downtown Austin. The Festival is free and open to the public! Check out all of this year’s authors.