I really enjoy Sherman Alexie‘s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian (a book that shares similar themes and one that I have my children’s literature students read), and I was excited to read his first children’s picture book Thunder Boy Jr. (2016, Little, Brown and Company), which is illustrated by Yuyi Morales.
This is a book about identity, a book about Thunder Boy Jr.’s quest to find a name that fits him.
Featuring a Native American protagonist (definitely an underrepresented character in children’s literature), Thunder Boy Jr. covers a subject just about all of us have dealt with: the quest to change our names. Certainly there were days when I did not feel Kathryn fit me, but I have learned (to my parents’ delight, I’m sure) to really appreciate my name. But Thunder Boy Jr.’s journey is a bit different.
Here’s what I LOVE about this book:
(1) The way Alexie tells an important tale about identity. A name is not something that is arbitrary. It has to fit one’s identity, one’s sense of being. As he explores possibilities, Thunder Jr. expresses wonderful self-knowledge about his hobbies and traits.
(2) There is so much voice in the writing. Readers have the opportunity to hear Thunder Boy Jr.’s humorous and reflective perspective on the subject of what his name should be. I like that the story is told in the first-person. Children need to be exposed to books that are told in a child’s voice. I also love that Alexie acknowledges the reader in the text. The whisper page is one of my favorites!
Here’s what I didn’t like so much about the book:
(1) I just wrote about the power of Thunder Boy Jr.’s voice in the text, but I did not like that his dad is the one who finally provides his new name (which I will let you discover!). It seems strange to me that the book ends with the predicament the book starts with: one’s given name. I think the book would have been stronger had Jr. selected his name completely on his own.
Here are some TEACHING IDEAS:
(1) Create a text set on identity. Pair Thunder Boy Jr. with The House on Mango Street and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in a text set on identity and to spark drawing or poetry activities about names.
(2) Explore Native American culture within Thunder Boy Jr. There is a certain hybrid nature to Thunder Boy Jr.’s identity that becomes more obvious as readers dig deeper. Students could select elements of his culture from the text and explore how these function in Alexie’s story.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book – and Morales’s wonderfully vibrant illustrations. I think it will be a fan favorite! Let me know what you think of Thunder Boy Jr. in the comments below – and (if you made it this far) please share this post with your colleagues and/or friends on social media.