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A Powwow Celebration with Traci Sorell and Madelyn Goodnight

Updated: Feb 9, 2023

Traci Sorell and Madelyn Goodnight share POWWOW DAY, an uplifting, contemporary Native American story about a girl named River, who is recovering from illness and can't dance at the powwow this year.







Listen along:


[1:03] Introduction

Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.

I am a teacher, a librarian, and a fan of kids. And, and I realize this might seem a little unusual to say, but I am a fan of the kid in the book we’re sharing today. Her name is River, and I can’t wait for you to meet her, so to speak, through today’s episode.

This is a podcast all about exploring big ideas in children’s books and the way that stories can help us feel seen, understood, and valued.

Helping me out on today’s episode is Julia.

Julia: Hi! My name is Julia. I’m 7 years old and I’m from Maryland.

Today on the Children’s Book Podcast, Traci Sorell, an author and an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and Madelyn Goodnight, an illustrator and member of the Chickasaw Nation, share Powwow Day.

Matthew: Powwow Day by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight

In this uplifting, contemporary Native American story, River is recovering from illness and can't dance at the powwow this year. Will she ever dance again?

River wants so badly to dance at powwow day as she does every year. Follow River's journey from feeling isolated after an illness to learning the healing power of community.

Additional information explains the history and functions of powwows, which are commonplace across the United States and Canada and are open to both Native Americans and non-Native visitors.

[2:49] Meet Our Guests: Traci Sorell and Madelyn Goodnight

Traci: Siyo. My name is Traci Sorell. I'm an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and I live in my tribe's reservation. I am the author of Powwow Day.

Madelyn: Chockma. My name is Madelyn Goodnight. I'm a Chickasaw artist and designer living in Oklahoma City. And I'm the illustrator of Powwow Day.

[3:08] What Is A Powwow?

Matthew: “Powwow.” This might be a new word for some of you. So before we go any further, let’s make sure everyone listening knows what that word means.

Traci: A powwow is a celebration of song and dance, community, and family. Sometimes there are traditional powwows where people dance and sing. And there are competition powwows where people compete in various dance categories.

But overall, it's a time for people to be together and share food and laughter and community and celebration.

Matthew: I have never been to a powwow, but I have watched many, many videos from the Gathering of Nations, which happens every year in April on Powwow Grounds at Expo NM in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Even just bringing it up makes me smile, but let me pass it back to Madelyn and Traci to share their experiences.

Madelyn: The experiences I've had with going to a powwow… I'm Chickasaw, so we don't practice powwows. We do different types of dances. But I have been to powwows before and the sense of community I had being there attending the powwow was so beautiful. It was such a chance to really connect with your heritage and see all of the beautiful dances and events and just history that really encompasses a powwow.

And, like Traci was saying, it's such a celebration of your heritage and your family and, um, I just felt such a sense of belonging, even though it was a different tribe.

It was really… You could see people connecting with old friends they hadn't talked to in a little while, or like extended family, and it really felt like you were a part of that. You were part of something bigger.

There's so much to see and do. The sights and smells. So much good food. So much great dancing and music. It's just such a beautiful event that lasts all day that really helps you connect with that heritage and that culture and become immersed in it.

Traci: For myself, being at a powwow is sensory overload sometimes because there are wonderful smells from the food, and the sound of the drum, the laughter, the singing.

[Excerpt from PowWow by Free Matter for the Blind]

I am overwhelmed visually by all the different regalia that everyone's wearing and all of the just gorgeous colors. And you know that so many people's families and friends have taken time to put that regalia together. So it's just visually so beautiful.

I love, um, like I say, hearing and seeing, smelling, tasting, and then touch. Just your own ability to, to see friends, you know, share hugs to, to be out and touch the earth and, and dance around the, the circle within the arena. And it just feels really comfortable.

Like Madie, my tribe is not a powwow tribe. But one of the things that we do during our annual holiday celebration is that we host a powwow because we wanna invite, uh, tribes that are located around us who are from that background to join us in celebration.

And so I really enjoy that. Uh, we do that as a way of, again, welcoming other people. And there are lots of Cherokee people who dance on what we call the powwow trail and travel around the country competing in powwows. That's not what I grew up doing.

And like I say, like Madie, it's not our traditional form of dance, but, uh, I've never been to a powwow yet where I didn't feel welcome and, and everyone is welcome at the powwow. Certainly whether you are a citizen of that tribe or whoever's hosting it, um, or if you're not Native at all, you know, you just have to follow the etiquette. And those are basically kind of the rules and the way we behave and, and show our respect to everyone else that's in the circle and, and following those norms.

And there are people there that help you do that, whether that's the emcee who's calling the powwow, the arena director.There's numerous people in place and you just kind of observe what's happening, you know, that other people are doing and, and make sure, you know, you kind of take your cues from those who have been there and done that, but it's a very welcoming space and very, very enjoyable.

[8:03] What Is Regalia?

Matthew: Traci shared a word a moment ago to describe what people were wearing: “regalia”. Are you familiar with that word? Traci, would you mind unpacking that for us?

Traci: Yes, so. Sometimes when people see people in what we would call our traditional dress or our regalia is they'll say, “Oh, they're dressing up like an Indian or a Native person and they're putting on their costume.” But those are not costumes at all. Those are actually, are our clothes that have been made for a special event, like a powwow or maybe, um, a ceremony that someone's going to be in or their graduation.

So that could be a shirt and some leggings. It could be a tunic and a skirt. It could be, um, you'll sometimes see on men what's called a roach and it’s a high set of bristles and there'll be an eagle feather in it. Women will have, um, sometimes eagle feathers. Placed in their hair with a barrette.

So there's numerous things that make up regalia, but literally it's, it's the clothes and it's all the accessories or the other things that go with the clothes. Um, from the jewelry, the belts. Maybe there are, um, bells that'll be tied to someone's like small bells or, um, deer hooves, you know, that will shake together to be in a rattle. A lot of women, especially for jingle dress dancers, like you'll notice in the story, they have fans that are made up of feathers that they will hold in their hand. They'll have a purse on their other arm. Uh, they could, you know, women will when they're dancing. So there's a variety of, um, things that come together to make up regalia.

That's a great question.

Matthew: I love the emphasis that, that it's those special pieces of clothing that we adorn. To do this special event. I think there are lots of people that can make that connection of wearing certain clothes or, or, or articles that you wouldn't normally wear to school or to wherever, but you do for this event.

Traci: And those, um, items are not anything that you just go buy in the store off the rack, you know, other people have made those often a community of people, people in your family, other friends, um, have come together to help dress you.

Sometimes you may be wearing things that other people in your family or good friends have worn and they've grown out of, or they've gifted you. So there's a lot of, of love and care that has gone into everything that you see someone wearing.

Matthew: Oh, that's special. And thinking of all of those people, those many hands that come together.

I wonder, Traci, what kind of reader or readers you had in mind as you, as you sat down to write this book, or maybe even that inspired you to write this book?

[11:00] What Kind of Reader Did You Have In Mind?

Traci: You know, when I first started this book, it was an early reader and I just wanted to write a story about a child and their family at a powwow. And friends read it, said, oh no, it should be a picture book. And I was like, okay, well, it'll still be just a concept story about a family.

And as I shared it with editors, and those are the kind of people that, you know, or kinda like teachers that give me feedback on my writing, they said, “Oh, it should have a character. And, um, more of a story arc and conflict.” And I thought, “Oh, I don't really want it to be like that.” But, you know, sometimes we need to take feedback. And, yeah. Guess what? That made the story so much richer.

So I found that I had a couple of, uh, friends who had children who had gone through some health struggles and I thought, you know, both of them had to take time out from being able to participate in dancing, um, while they were dealing with those things. So they became my inspiration for the story because all of us at various times have to ask for help or have to take time out from things that we wanna do, that we love to do. And other people care for us, right? And love us and pray for us, and, um, help us through those things.

And so that's who I was thinking about, um, in the story because I feel like all of us, regardless of how old we are, you know, have those experiences.

Madelyn: I thought so, too. I mean, as soon as, as soon as I read it, I was just like, this is the coolest story of all time. I just, I was over the moon. As soon as I read Traci's story, I thought it was so unique. I thought the heart was so lovely. I thought all of us could… I immediately could identify with River and I immediately knew of so many people.

It was a universal, um, it was a universal thing we all go through. And I think Traci's writing beautifully captured that and the story really beautifully captured that.

[12:58] When You Have to Miss Out

Matthew: It’s not an easy thing to be looking forward to an event or a special moment only to have to sit out or miss out for one reason or another.

Jules, can you think of a time when you were looking forward to something but then couldn’t participate?

Julia: I think it was, like, when I was sick and I missed a school day and it was my favorite day. I missed Art because it was an Art day. I really feel excited when it is an Art day for me because I really love to draw and paint. It felt sad when I had to miss out.

Matthew: Oh. I remember that day in particular. But I also remember that you’re always bent out of shape when you miss an Art day. Thanks for sharing that. I really appreciate hearing how that made you feel.

River, the main character in Powwow Day, is feeling something similar, I think.

It’s important to be able to see your feelings or experiences or culture or family reflected in a book. That helps to understand that you are not the only person who looks or feels or celebrates or experiences the things you do.

This is where I feel Madelyn’s illustrations really make such a deep impact. It’s as if Madelyn anticipated that each of you would be drawn to different moments in the book, different characters, different regalia, different dancers. And so, as you read Powwow Day, or hear it read aloud, you’ll discover things that carry over from one page to the next. You can follow people and families throughout this powwow day. You can study the expressions on people’s faces, and notice how expressions change as the day passes and as other people interact with River.

I realize that many of you might not have access to a copy of Powwow Day, so I’ll include some sample illustrations on my website so that you, too, can look closely.

Madelyn: Right when I started on the art, the pandemic happened and all powwows, you know, they stopped for like two years.

They stopped for… and even events, just cultural events just for everybody's safety. You know, everybody had to stay home. So I had to get kind of, um, I had to get creative with how I was going to do the research and how I really wanted to immerse myself with not being able to be there in person. So I definitely drew on my personal experiences of pow-wows that I've been to, and I really broke it down to truly like my memories of that and how it made me feel

And Traci's great description of powwows earlier, I think when you're at a powwow and I went to someone, I was a little kid older than River, but when I was younger it was really the sights and the sounds and the smells and the textures and all those sensory things really stick out to you. I think when you're not there. Those are the things I think that stick out in your. Um, and it's just because they're so energetic and lively and, and such a part of the experience. So I really drew on my own memories, past memories of that.

And, um, you know, Traci talking about the regalia, everything is so unique. Everything is completely handmade. They're all telling a different story of whoever's wearing it. They're completely tailored to the culture and, uh, you know, sometimes the. part of the, you know, part of the US or wherever they're happening, the region they're in, um, different tribes and heritages, so I really tried to do my research on getting it right specifically to River and to her tribe.

And Traci and the team at Charlesbridge were great because it was really a group effort on everybody's part.

Traci: Yes. I think that's one of the things that I love so much about this book and I hope that readers, um, enjoy too, is that there are a lot of different people in this book. It's not just River and her family, you know, and her cousins and friends.

And everyone has absolutely unique regalia to them. There are not patterns repeated on anyone's outfit that's the same as someone else's, and that's exactly how it is at the powwow. So it really is respectful of the fact that everyone looks unique and that we all are, um, our own people. Even in that collective, even in the community. And I so appreciated Madie taking the time to have that detail.

You know, because I, like you, Matthew, I, I recognize that our readers are gonna, um, have that eagle eye and look.

[17:28] Something To Look For When You Read

Matthew: Regardless of your access to this book. Regardless of whether or not you have it in your home or classroom, your school library or your public library, or even if you are encountering the book for the first time via this conversation, we want to make sure that all of you get the opportunity to connect with the story within Powwow Day’s pages.

Here are two moments from the book that Traci and Madelyn thought you each might enjoy.

Traci: Well, you know, one of the things that people say is often that I, that I've gotten asked, um, is, “Well, what, um, tribe is River from, because you don't say specifically in the book?” And um, but we do say in the book, we're just not explicit about it, but it's in the art.

And so the grand entry page, where you see them coming in. And of course the Eagle staff always goes first. And then you'll have the tribal flag, US flag, P.O.W. flag, other flags that come in behind that.

Here is the flag of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Nation up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. And for those readers who might want to read more about River and her family, you can find out more about her and her tribal background in Ancestor Approved because I wrote a short story in there that is about her older sister as the main person of the story.

River's secondary in that one, and it's written a little later in time at another powwow. But, um, River's father is from Sault St. Marie, and that's where the family lives. And her mother is Turtle Mountain, Anishinaabe or Ojibwe from, uh, a reservation that's now in North Central North Dakota. So we did put it in the book, it just wasn't explicit.

Madelyn: So one of my favorite passages is kind of early in the book, and it is the drumbeat. Um, and I just love this page because I think in the story, this really takes me into the experience of a powwow. When Traci is reading this book in storytime and she reads this page, I'm always just immediately transported. I think the drumbeat is so important at a powwow. You kind of feel it the entire time you're there and it's truly like a heartbeat. And I think it really shines through in the story as well how much of a heartbeat is moving throughout the people at a powwow in the community. And in this story too, with River and her family.

So that's by far one of my favorite passages. I love the entire book, so I couldn't really choose one that was just above all others, but I love this one. Every time I hear Traci read it or I read it to my nephew or other little kids.

[20:13] A Message from Traci Sorell and Madelyn Goodnight to You

Matthew: Listeners, I hope you enjoyed our time with Traci Sorell and Madelyn Goodnight. I hope that you will seek out music and dances from powwows through audio and video recordings, and that you will immerse yourself in whatever ways you can, whether learning about powwows for the first time, or revisiting your memories of powwows past.

As we close our time together, and as I prepare to head back to my library full of children, I asked Traci and Madelyn if there’s a message they’d like to share with all of you.

So, here are messages for you to take with you as you leave.

Traci: You all have so many stories inside you and I can't wait to experience what you're gonna share with the world. So please, please share your stories with us.

Madelyn: I think Powwow Day and powwows in general about are all about celebration, celebration of heritage and culture and the things you like to do and dance, so I would encourage everybody to read Powwow Day and learn about powwows, but also just do something to celebrate yourself and celebrate your own culture and something you like to do. And, um, dancing is always a good way to do it.

[21:32] Closing

Matthew: The Children’s Book Podcast is written, edited, and produced by me, Matthew Winner.

Follow the show wherever podcasts are found, and leave us a rating or review when you do. That helps us out a whole lot because it helps the show get discovered by and recommended to new listeners.

Traci? Madelyn? Where can listeners find you?

Traci: T-R-A-C-I S-O-R-E-L-L dot com.

Madelyn: I also have a website, M-A-D-E-L-Y-N, and then goodnight, G-O-O-D-N-I-G-H-T dot com.

Matthew: Visit for a full transcript of this episode plus some questions that you can use as you think about this episode.

You can also reach out and let me know if you have ever been to a powwow? If so, what was it like? Write to me or send me a message at That’s M-A-T-T-H-E-W M-A-K-E-S P-O-D-S at gmail dot com.

Want a copy of Powwow Day? Julia, where should our listeners look?

Julia: Check your school or public library, your classroom, or, if you want to support independent bookstores, you can purchase a copy at

Matthew: I’ll have a link in the show notes.

Our podcast logo was created by Duke Stebbins (

Our music is by Podington Bear.

Podcast hosting by Libsyn.

We are a proud member of Kids Listen, the best place to discover the best in kids podcasts. Learn more at

Anything else you want to share, Jules?

Julia: Have a great day and I hope it’s not snowing for you.

Matthew: Okay. That’s a great message. I hope you all get whatever weather you’re wishing for, be it a snow day or clear skies.

And, on that note… Be well. And read on.

End Of Episode

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