Ears on the Odyssey

Review: We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

Live Oak Media’s production of We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac, exudes the celebratory joy and beauty of this readalong picture book following a contemporary Cherokee family throughout the year, expressing gratitude with each season with their community. 

This groundbreaking book is highly regarded and honored for its accuracy, authenticity, and craft. As the companion interview post reveals, incredible care and attention was put into ensuring this production was done right. It was essential to have author Traci Sorell, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, create this audiobook together with producer Arnie Cardillo. Thankfully, Traci took on this project. Traci found a Cherokee-owned recording studio, run by Brad Henderson, where the audiobook was recorded. She cast fellow Cherokee citizens as the narrators, casting Tonia Hogner-Weavil, the Educator Director for the Cherokee Heritage Center (who also reviewed the discussion/activity guide for the book), Ryan Mackey, the Curriculum Supervisor with the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program, and young narrators, Agalisiga (Choogie) Mackey and Lauren Hummingbird, who graduated from the Cherokee Nation’s language immersion school. Each of the five narrators, which includes Traci Sorell, bring something special to the text with their individual performances, meticulous in their pronunciation while thoughtfully expressing the meaning of the words. It was especially effective to have a different narrator for the Cherokee word, its phonetic pronunciation, and the English translation to make this information stand out. How fitting to have community leaders and young people share in the craft of expressing a year in the Cherokee Nation through sound, especially with their efforts for Native Language revitalization. 

The details are everything in this production. It is a sound-rich audiobook that masterfully weaves the narration, sound effects, and music together to create an immersive listening experience. The illustrations are brilliantly expressed through sound effects, providing ambience to set the scene within each season. Careful attention to the details in the illustrations inspire sound effects such as the shell shakers, the pileated woodpecker, the dog barking, the cat meowing, the child laughing in the leaves, the bears snoring, making corn-husk dolls and playing cane flutes, crossing the stream, the list goes on, which help listeners better understand the narrative. The original music, inspired by traditional and contemporary Cherokee music, composed by Pat Savage and Brad Henderson, forms the soundbed for this production, conveying the emotions and mood of each scene. It is especially effective when different music is used when the Cherokee words are spoken, pronounced and translated. This production includes background sounds of family and community such as the man singing the traditional lullaby in Tsalagi, Cherokee and tribal leaders speaking at Cherokee National Holiday, painting an auditory picture of Cherokee life and experiences. I absolutely loved learning that Choogie and Lauren ad-libbed the background dialogue in Cherokee of the people in the illustrations, which truly creates that immersive soundscape that makes listeners feel they are inside the book with them – and most importantly, amplifies the authentic representation in this beautiful production. The narration concludes with sound effects from all of the seasons with the refrain of “Otsaliheliga. We Are Grateful” as the sounds of guitar, flute and birds fade out. 

The production includes a page-turn track and a track without the page turns. With energy and expertise, Traci Sorell reads the extensive back-matter, reading the definitions, author’s note, and the note about the Cherokee Syllabary. Ryan Mackey, who teaches the Cherokee language, reads the Cherokee Syllabary, which is an excellent resource to hear how the syllabary is pronounced.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga stands out as an innovative production, one that masterfully applies the techniques of the audiobook medium to express the text in ways that are moving, evocative, and powerful. It is an individually distinct production that is unlike any other published this year. The intentionality in accuracy and authenticity is paramount throughout the production, which can serve as a model for how to do this work well. 

I highly recommend purchasing this audiobook for your collections – and encouraging your local library to purchase it if they don’t have it yet. You can even purchase it from the Cherokee Nation gift shop! I am truly grateful for the opportunity to share this extraordinary production with our community.

Learn more about the process to create the We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga audiobook from author Traci Sorell and producer Arnie Cardillo in our interview post here

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac, read by Lauren Hummingbird, Agalisiga (Choogie) Mackey, Ryan Mackey, Traci Sorell, Hogner-Weavil. 29 minutes, 23 seconds. Live Oak Media, 2019.

Eti Berland is a Youth and Teen Services Librarian at Lincolnwood Public Library District in Lincolnwood, IL.  She has served on the 2018 Odyssey Committee and the 2015 Newbery Committee. She has been an ardent audio listener from a childhood making radio shows to her current obsession with podcasts and audiobooks.@90SecondNewbery


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