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by Traci Sorell

As other creators this month have noted, ideas for stories come to us in various ways. I can be inspired by almost anything—a walk outside, a passing remark, a memory or simply reading another book. It’s in this last one—reading someone else’s work—that I’ve found a couple of my own stories to tell. I fell in love with the forms and structures used in those books and wanted to challenge myself to replicate those in entirely different stories.

I SAY SHEHECHIYANU, written by Joanne Rocklin and illustrated by Monika Filipina, prompted WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA, my debut nonfiction picture book.

 

I loved Rocklin’s fictional story of a young Jewish girl expressing gratitude by saying “Shehechiyanu” for experiencing many “firsts” over the course of the year. It sparked my thinking about how in Cherokee culture we’re taught to be grateful for not just wonderful things that happen to us, but also the struggles. That ties to other teachings about balance, resilience, and interdependence. After a helpful critique from award-winning author Suzanne Slade, I made my story completely nonfiction from the perspective of Cherokee people as a collective.

Similarly, AT THE MOUNTAIN’S BASE, my debut fiction picture book illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre, came to me after I typed out the text of IN A VILLAGE BY THE SEA.

 

Written by Muon Van and illustrated by April Chu, this circular story follows a family waiting for a fisherman dad to come home and includes some fun magic with a cricket too. I began to think about Cherokee and other Native families who wait for their loved ones serving in the armed forces to come home. I intentionally made the pilot female because the service of women, especially Native women, is often overlooked in depictions of servicemembers in books for children.

Beyond just the previous examples, there are other elements of form and structure that I like to play with as I’m writing a story. Most of us have been told repeatedly about the “rule of threes”—three events, three characters, etc. This concept derives from a Latin or European way of thinking and may not serve the story you are crafting at all. In Cherokee culture, the numbers four and seven have greater meaning. So don’t feel compelled to follow that “rule” as it’s really not a rule at all. Likewise, stories can end rather abruptly as they do in many Cherokee ones I heard as a child. I loved seeing this in a picture book released last year, JOHNNY’S PHEASANT, written by Cheryl Minnema and illustrated by Julie Flett, which just won the 2020 Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding writing in a picture book. I also see many picture books published outside the United States employing this same method with endings that aren’t drawn out or others not wrapping up neatly as we’re often advised to do in craft workshops and webinars. We live lives full of abrupt endings, question marks and ambiguities—children know and live this too. It can be refreshing to see reality reflected in picture books.

So I invite you to play with form, try different points of view, experiment with different structures, and see where it takes you.  My hope is that you’ll enjoy the journey.

Here are some of my go-to sources of inspiration for finding books:


Cherokee Nation citizen and award-winning author Traci Sorell writes fiction and nonfiction books as well as poems for children. A former federal Indian law attorney and advocate, Traci lives with her family in northeastern Oklahoma where her tribe is located.

Find out more about her work online at tracisorell.com or via Twitter @tracisorell and Instagram @tracisorell.


Traci is giving away a signed poster and a copy of AT THE MOUNTAIN’S BASE.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
2021

BLOOP!
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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