Cherokee Collaborators Publish Children’s Books About Cultural Legends

Cherokee Nation employees by day, Bradley Wagnon and Alex Stephenson collaborated in their spare time to create two children’s books adapted from traditional Cherokee stories. The pair self-published their first book, How the World Was Made about the Cherokee creation story. The duo’s second book, The Land of the Great Turtles, published by Rowe Publishing in March 2018, tells the Cherokee origin story. The read-aloud books teach youth vital Cherokee legends.

“Our main motivation for doing these children’s books was to share our stories,” said Wagnon, author of the books and training specialist for Cherokee Nation Community and Cultural Outreach (CCO). “These stories have lessons and value for everyone. If we live by the values and lessons, we will treat each other right and listen to our elders. We feel like these stories have value in and of themselves—not only to perpetuate our history and culture, but to help society and the world.”

Stephenson, the books’ illustrator and a licensed professional counselor and therapist for the Cherokee Nation, added: Culture is important to pass on. These are such rich stories. We’ve had a stellar reception from the community.”

Equal partners in their children’s book venture, Wagnon and Stephenson chose to take advantage of CreateSpace to self-publish their first book. The self-publishing service allowed them to make How the World Was Made available to millions of potential customers by distributing through CreateSpace, owned by Amazon, requires no initial investment. On-demand production also meant Wagnon and Stephenson didn’t have to worry about inventory or minimum orders.

“You just put in an order, and they fulfill that order. You only pay for the books that you order. For self-publishing, there is no upfront charge,” Wagnon explained.

For their second book, Stephenson, who has illustrated a total of seven children’s books, leveraged his connections in the publishing world. They secured Rowe Publishing, which promotes and manages bulk orders for The Land of The Great Turtles, released in March 2018.

“The difference between self-publishing and having a publisher is that the publisher handles all of the bulk orders from gift shops and museums,” Wagnon explained. “They can reprint based on demand.”

How the World Was Made and The Land of The Great Turtles are sold at several gift shops and at the Cherokee Heritage Center on the Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma, as well as in several stores in Cherokee, North Carolina. Local schools in Oklahoma also embraced the opportunity to carry the children’s book versions of the Cherokee creation and origin stories. Wagnon and Stephenson additionally donated books to the local library, and held a reading lab at Northeastern State University that drew dozens of youth.

The pair are currently collaborating on a third Cherokee children’s book about the first fire. “As far as I know, the Cherokee story of the first fire has never been written down and in print,” Wagnon said. “It involves a pretty common character in Cherokee folklore, the Water Spider. You see water spider designs all through Cherokee art.  It will not only explain where we got the first fire, but why the water spider is so important.”

Wagnon and Stephenson have seen some financial return from their first two books. Without much overhead costs, “we probably turned a profit of a few hundred dollars a-piece.”

The upfront cost for Rowe Publishing “was around $300-350,” Wagnon said. “Profits exceeded our initial investment within the first few weeks.”

But profit was never the impetus for sharing their cultural stories.

“If these stories aren’t told or passed down, it’s so easy to lose them over time,” Stephenson said. “Our hope is that one day, adults pass these stories on to their children, and that they look at these books and cultural stories as fond memories from their childhood.”

About the Authors:

Wagnon, who graduated with a Criminal Justice degree from Northeastern State University, also obtained two teaching certifications—one for high school history and social studies, and another through the Cherokee Nation to teach the Cherokee language, history and culture. After a decade long teaching career, in 2015, Wagnon transitioned to work for the Cherokee Nation. This year, he was recognized as the Cherokee Nation CCO Employee of the Year. In that role, he assists community nonprofit organizations, hosts leadership trainings and provides grants.

Stephenson, a licensed professional counselor and therapist for the Cherokee Nation, got his professional start as an illustrator drawing web comics in 2008. When he became a dad five years later, he transitioned from web comics to children’s books. Thus far, Stephenson has put out seven books, two of which are Cherokee books. His other books are educational in focus and center on life lessons that he teaches in therapy, such as self-esteem for children.