Review:Thunder Boy Junior by Sherman Alexie

First published in The Star on 11th November, 2016

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Sherman Alexie, the author of the hilarious and heart-wrenching award-winning young adult fiction novel The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian, has published his first picture book.

Illustrated by Yuyi Morales, Thunder Boy Jr tells the story of a young boy struggling to come to terms with his name. Thunder Boy has been named after his dad who is known as “Big Thunder”. Unfortunately, this makes the little boy “Little Thunder”, a nickname that he thinks sounds like a “burp or a fart”.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I really disliked my name when I was growing up and wanted to be called Ruby instead (don’t ask!). Hating your name (too long; too short; too common; too unusual; sounds like a kind of aquatic organism, etc) is something that most children can relate to. In this book, the child is a Native American, and this allows him to come up with some really unusual and creative alternatives, including Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth (because he once touched a wild orca), Mud in Ears (because he loves playing in the dirt) and Drums, Drums and More Drums (because he loves pow wow dancing).

I like the fact that this book, with its universally accessible theme, invites the reader into a culture and world that is not widely seen in children’s literature, or indeed mainstream literature at any level. Although Alexie has been criticised for not being specific enough in his references to Native American cultural practices (for example, there are actually many different tribes and their cultures are not the same, which the author fails to point out in the story, or in an afterword), this is still a book that adds to the dominantly white body of work that exists for children.

Sherman Alexie, the author of the hilarious and heart-wrenching award-winning young adult fiction novel The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian, has published his first picture book.

Illustrated by Yuyi Morales, Thunder Boy Jr tells the story of a young boy struggling to come to terms with his name. Thunder Boy has been named after his dad who is known as “Big Thunder”. Unfortunately, this makes the little boy “Little Thunder”, a nickname that he thinks sounds like a “burp or a fart”.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I really disliked my name when I was growing up and wanted to be called Ruby instead (don’t ask!). Hating your name (too long; too short; too common; too unusual; sounds like a kind of aquatic organism, etc) is something that most children can relate to. In this book, the child is a Native American, and this allows him to come up with some really unusual and creative alternatives, including Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth (because he once touched a wild orca), Mud in Ears (because he loves playing in the dirt) and Drums, Drums and More Drums (because he loves pow wow dancing).

I like the fact that this book, with its universally accessible theme, invites the reader into a culture and world that is not widely seen in children’s literature, or indeed mainstream literature at any level. Although Alexie has been criticised for not being specific enough in his references to Native American cultural practices (for example, there are actually many different tribes and their cultures are not the same, which the author fails to point out in the story, or in an afterword), this is still a book that adds to the dominantly white body of work that exists for children.

Morales’ illustrations capture Little Thunder’s high spirits and the exuberance of his energetic, close-knit family in bright bursts of colour. The characters are portrayed in the midst of play – biking, dancing, making music, running and leaping – against a fantastical psychedelic backdrop, a tapestry of shapes, symbols and objects that reflect their lives and interests. Each picture spread features Little Thunder, with his chubby little sister, Lillian, never far behind. Just as Big Thunder is a role model to his son, so Little Thunder is to the little girl, her admiration and love for him shining on the page as she tracks his every move.

This is a book that is about the search for identity, something that all children experience. In this case, loving family members make Little Thunder’s (and also Lillian’s) journey to self-affirmation a joyous and safe one.

Young readers will love the book’s fast-paced action and humour. They may be inspired to come up with their own descriptive names, to play guitar, and pet a wild orca. Storytime with Thunder Boy Jr will definitely be a lively event, so, while it may not be the best bedtime book, it will very likely become your child’s favourite read.

 

 

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