Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, June 17, 2016

To Be Named

In two days another Father's Day will be celebrated.  Families will be paying tribute to dads, uncles, grandfathers, older brothers and significant men in their lives.  For me it will be another Father's Day without my dad.  It will be a day to remember all the memorable moments we shared and those times I've wished for him to be with me.  It will be a day to miss him but to reflect on how much a part of my life he still is on a daily basis.  The tools in his original carpenter's belt are used often, his initials etched in the handles.  The care of my gardens and lawn reflect his green-thumb gifts.  The maintenance of everything I own, making them last beyond the time they should, is due to his constant attention to detail.  It's as if he is right beside me, guiding me.

Dads play important parts in all our lives.  In Sherman Alexie's first picture book, Thunder Boy Jr. (Little, Brown and Company, May 10, 2016) illustrated by Yuyi Morales, a son speaks to readers about his beloved father.  The boy is unsure how to address a huge problem he has.

Hello, my name is 
Thunder Boy.

As his younger sister proclaims he is Thunder Boy Smith.  At birth he received this name from his father.  He would much rather have been given a normal name like Sam. (That's what his mom wanted to call him.)  He is not the only Thunder Boy either, he is Thunder Boy Jr.  His dad is Thunder Boy Sr.

This might be okay but his dad is affectionately and with respect called Big Thunder.  He is Little Thunder.  This does not seem right to him.  He shares a secret with readers.


The boy keeps this secret to himself out of love for his dad.  He does imagine being named for accomplishments in his young life.  For touching a wild orca on the nose perhaps he should be named


He thinks how much his dog enjoys chasing his own tail and the costume tail Thunder Boy Jr. sometimes wears.  Maybe his name should be


He thoughtfully ponders nine possibilities.  How can he be truly himself when he shares a name with his dad?  This little guy does not know what to do with his unhappiness.  Someone far wiser has an answer.  Your heart will swell with the same joy Thunder Boy Jr. feels.

Even though Thunder Boy Jr. has a personal, real dilemma, Sherman Alexie, forms each sentence so readers realize the boy is living in a home filled with loving family members.  We form a compassionate connection to him as he speaks to us.  When he relates his experiences, each which could serve to give him a name more specific to him alone, his exuberance, his zest for life, sails off the pages.  Alexie also uses repetition with excellent effect.  Here is a sample passage.

People call him 


That nickname is a storm
filling up the sky.

People call me


That nickname makes me
sound like a
burp or a fart.

One of the first things I do when reading a book is to check to see how the artist created the illustrations.  This is what I read on the verso for this book.

The illustrations for Thunder Boy Jr. were made from the remains of an antique house in Xalapa, Mexico, where Yuyi now has her studio and where she created this book.  When the rotting roof and some of the walls came down, she picked out old wood as well as clay bricks that she later scanned and used their colors and textures to digitally paint the illustrations.  

This is why when you open the matching dust jacket and book case, you have to marvel at the force radiating from the images.  The bold outlines and vibrant colors on the sizzling backgrounds are full of energy.  A collage of circles in red, magenta, yellow, turquoise, black and gray fashion a pattern on the opening and closing endpapers.

Text balloons, speech bubbles, are placed throughout the narrative holding narrative words as if they're spoken.  This involves all the characters, even the family's dog.  All of the pages are connected across the gutter even if they portray a separate moment.

Within the story Yuyi Moralesin a series of pictures, includes a mini-story of the boy and his sister disagreeing over the possession of a large colorful ball.   Two other elements which I really like are first the size of the parents with respect to the children.  Our parents are and will remain larger than life to us.  The other aspect is when Thunder Boy Jr. is imagining possible names; the father is a part of the orca and the mountain.

Readers will notice elements from one picture carried into another one; the children riding their bikes, the playing of the guitar and the presence of the bear, coyote (wolf) and snake.  You will want to stop and look at every detail in picture after picture.  The image of Thunder Boy Jr. powwow dancing is stunning.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is of Thunder Boy Jr., his sister and their dog playing in the dirt.  It looks to be fairly muddy with dark brown splotches spreading out from the children and the dog.  The brother and sister are sliding through it on pieces of cardboard.  Their faces are glowing as they laugh and laugh and laugh.  You want to jump in and join them!

With each reading of Thunder Boy Jr. written by Sherman Alexie with illustrations by Yuyi Morales your affection for this boy and his father will grow.  You can almost hold the joy found in these pages in your hands.  This IS a book for everyone.  It is wonderful to read it aloud.

To learn more about Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Sherman Alexie and this title are discussed at The Washington Post.  Sherman Alexie is interviewed on NPR Books about Thunder Boy Jr.  Teacher librarian and 2014 Caldecott committee member Travis Jonker premieres the book trailer on his blog, 100 Scope Notes.  It's a superb trailer.  Both Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales are on Twitter at @Sherman_Alexie @yuyimorales  Yuyi Morales is a 2016 Sendak Fellow.  I have enjoyed following her tweets about this experience.


  1. I'm a huge fan of Diary and Smoke Signals, but I honestly had a bit of a mixed reaction to this one, Margie. It just didn't quite work for me. I think it also really needs some kind of author's note too.

  2. I read it several times Maria. On the final reread the joy in the text and images really came through for me. An author's note would have been wonderful. I gained more insight from the interviews mentioned above in my post.

  3. I'll re-visit it. I did read the interviews, but as a whole, it felt somewhat anti-climactical since the boy still didn't get to choose his own name (even though that may not be part of a tribal naming tradition)

    1. I understand completely. When his dad sees into his heart, his joy is wonderful to me. As you said before, perhaps an author's note would have been very helpful.