Thunder Boy Jr.
Author: Sherman Alexie; Illustrator: Yuyi Morales
Published: May 10, 2016 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Goodreads Summary: Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad, but he wants a name that’s all his own. Just because people call his dad Big Thunder doesn’t mean he wants to be Little Thunder. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he’s done, like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder.
But just when Thunder Boy Jr. thinks all hope is lost, he and his dad pick the perfect name…a name that is sure to light up the sky.
National Book Award-winner Sherman Alexie’s lyrical text and Caldecott Honor-winner Yuyi Morales’s striking and beautiful illustrations celebrate the special relationship between father and son.
My Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I should start by admitting that I have a mildly unhealthy obsession with Sherman Alexie’s work. Ever since I discovered his greatness in college, I can’t get enough of him! So I broke one of my rules and pre-ordered this book. It surely didn’t disappoint! His writing and Yuyi Morales’ illustrations makes for a masterful text. As you can see from the flagged passage (a spread) below, the writing and illustrations pop, and readers will be captivated by the text. My two-year-old son loved reading it with me.
One of the critiques I’ve read about this book is that it should come with a teacher’s guide for Native American naming traditions. I fully understand this critique can understand where it is coming from. While I think an author’s note would have been helpful, as a fellow Native American, I wonder if this really should be a critique of the text. Why must Sherman Alexie (and other Native Americans) feel the need to always justify and explain their stories? I imagine that Alexie would cringe at a teacher’s (well-intentioned) attempt to follow up a reading of this text with their own naming ceremonies/activities. That said, I don’t believe this is necessarily his job. A little bit of background research will surely produce a wealth of materials about the sacredness of these rituals. I believe it seems to normalize Whiteness when we constantly request authors of color to provide teaching materials for texts. Like others, while I’d love for some aspect of the paratext to include this extra material, I don’t believe that this is a flaw of the text.
Discussion Questions: Why does Thunder Boy Jr. want a different name from his father? How does the author build the story in order to share more about Thunder Boy Jr.’s feelings?; What qualities do you share with other family members? How are you different from your family members? Do we all feel a yearning to be unique or different? In what ways are you unique?
Read This If You Loved: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Crossing Bok Chitto by Tim Tingle, Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, My Abuelita by Tony Jonston (Illustrated by Yuyi Morales), The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie