Thunder Boy is the real name of the central character of the children’s picture book written by National Book Award winner Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian).
Thunder Boy Smith – not exactly a “normal” name. And to top it all off, he’s not even the only Thunder Boy. His father is also Thunder Boy – Thunder Boy, Sr.
Thunder Boy loves his father, but he doesn’t like sharing a name with him.
People call him BIG THUNDER.
That nickname is a storm filling up the sky.
People call me Little Thunder.
That nickname makes me sound like a burp or a fart.
But it’s more than just not liking that he has to share a name – he hates his name, period. He’d rather he’d been named something normal, or maybe something cool (like Touch the Clouds because he once climbed a mountain).
Sometimes, though, things do have a way of working out, especially when you’re a boy with a dad like Big Thunder.
Thunder Boy, Jr. is a delightful book that encompasses the search for a boy’s sense of self within a loving family setting. Mr. Alexie gives Thunder Boy a wonderfully direct voice that carries with it the innocence and audacity of a child; Ms. Morales’ illustrations are large and active and strong – just like little boys and girls. (A note at the start of the book shares that the colors and textures in the illustrations came from the remains of an antique house in Xalapa, Mexico, where Ms. Morales has her studio – I don’t know why, but this just felt so very right to me. It should be noted that Ms. Morales has won many awards for her illustrations, including a Caldecott Medal for 2015’s Viva Frida.)
It’s also very rewarding to see a lovely children’s picture book that celebrates – without self-congratulatory fanfare – the thoughts of a young brown-skinned boy and his loving family (in this case, a Native American culture). According to a University of Wisconsin-Madison study, only 14% of children’s books published in the U.S. last year were about people of color. Thunder Boy Jr. doesn’t preach, but it does, very subtly, teach.
Highly, highly recommended, no matter how old you might be.