Name of Book: Thunder Boy, Jr.
Author: Sherman Alexie
Illustrator: Yuyi Morales
Publisher: Little Brown
Publication Date: 2016
Audience: 4-7 years
Summary: Sherman Alexie set out to write a children’s book featuring a non-white child. He did that and more in Thunder Boy, Jr. Thunder Boy is a Native-American child who does not like his name. He would prefer a name that reveals who he is, instead of a smaller version of his father, Thunder Boy, Sr. What follows is an imaginative exploration into who he is and what his name could be. Then, his father, recognizing Thunder Boy’s need, gives him a new name.
Literary elements at work in the story: This lyrical text is expertly crafted, drawing on the rich tradition of names and the meaning of names in the Native American culture. And the author employs great imagination on Thunder Boy’s part. For example, the boy wonders that if he was known for touching a wild orca, his name would be, “Not afraid of ten thousand teeth.” The illustrations from Mexican-American artist Yuyi Morales gives voice to Thunder Boy, his family, and the world around him.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Sherman Alexie has stated in interviews that he wrote this book to address the need for brown-skinned children in literature. This is an important children’s book for any library, in that it portrays a Native American child and family beyond the traditional Thanksgiving storybooks. The illustrations remind us of the connection we have with one another and with all of creation. For example, Thunder Boy’s sister is in almost every scene, observing her brother learn and become his new self. Thunder Boy reminds us that we learn about ourselves from the people and world around us.
Theological Conversation Partners: Thunder Boy, Jr. raises the question of identity. Even though he is named after his father, the Native American boy strives to carve out his own identity. This is not an issue of love, Thunder Boy points out. He loves his father. He simply wants his own name, a name “that sounds like me.”
There is a tradition of name changing in the Bible. In the ancient Hebrew culture, one’s name being changed signaled a new beginning in that one’s life. For example, Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah, and Jacob becomes Israel. Jesus continued this tradition when giving Simon a new name, Peter. Or, perhaps most widely known, when the persecutor Saul became the preacher Paul.
Faith Talk Questions
- Can you think of a time when you, like Thunder Boy, Jr., just wanted to be “mostly myself”? What was that like for you?
- If your name changed to reflect who you are, what would your new name be?
- How is Thunder Boy similar to his father, beyond the name they share?
- In what ways are you like your parents/family members?
- Read or recap any of the Biblical figures mentioned above whose names were changed. Share with the children what these names mean and how they reflect the change made in the person. (i.e. “Jacob” means “Heel Grabber” and Israel means “God-Wrestler”)
- Compare Bible character’s name-changing moment with the moment in the book when Thunder Boy’s father says, “I think it’s time I gave you a new name. A name of your own.” What is similar? Different?
- Explore Native American history in your area. What tribes lived there? Are there any reservations nearby? What are their traditions in giving names?
- Many Native American reservations have free medical clinics. Consider finding out what items are needed and hosting a collection in your church. The children could deliver the supplies.
This review is written by Union Presbyterian Seminary alumnus Jason C. Stanley who serves as the Coordinator for Church Revitalization on the Elizabeth River District in the Virginia Conference. He is husband to Rev. Megan Saucier and dad to Jayne Carter. He blogs at jasoncstanley.com.
Thunder Boy, Jr. by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.