Thunder Boy Jr.

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Thunder Boy Jr. Book Poster Image
Native American boy wants his own name in big-hearted story.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Introduction to Native American culture, including names, being a grass dancer at a powwow, costumes, masks, and dress, and shows how families blend traditional and contemporary culture.

Positive Messages

Families can embrace both modern and traditional elements of their culture. It's healthy and natural to have a separate identity from our parents, and different personalities can complement each other. If something makes you unhappy, brainstorm ways to fix it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Boy recognizes and articulates his feelings and tries to address them. He's an active, fun kid with lots of diverse interests and spunk. Father is sensitive to boy's feelings and understands that he needs his own identity. Family is warm and embracing.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Thunder Boy Jr., by National Book Award winner Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) and Caldecott Honoree Yuyi Morales (Viva Frida), is a perfect blend of the specific and the universal, with details of Native American culture and broad kid appeal. Thunder Boy Jr. is an exuberant, guitar-playing, bike-riding, powwow-dancing kid who hates sharing a name with his father. "I love my dad but I want my own name," he says. He tries out names that reflect him and his interests, such as Mud In His Ears and Old Toys Are Awesome, and is happy when his dad renames him Lightning. Morales pictures a warm and busy family with a broad-shouldered dad who looms as large as his thunderous name in this big-hearted story.

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What's the story?

In THUNDER BOY JR., a young Native American boy doesn't like his name, Thunder Boy Smith Jr. Not only is it "not a normal name," but he has to share it with his dad, so people call him Little Thunder, which "makes me sound like a burp or a fart." Thunder Boy wants a name that celebrates him and his interests, so over the next pages he comes up with eight really fun and unusual alternatives, from the wacky Old Toys Are Awesome to Drums, Drums, and More Drums, since he loves powwow dancing. He's thrilled when his dad finally sees that he needs an identity of his own and renames him Lightning: "My dad and I will light up the sky."

Is it any good?

This surefire kid pleaser, perfect for families to share, blends detail about a Native American boy and his family with dashes of both silliness and tenderness. In a seriously fun sequence that will inspire readers to riff on names for themselves, he fantasizes about names that "celebrate something cool that I've done" -- for instance, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth because he once touched a wild orca. Some of his traits are specific to Native American culture (he's a grass dancer who loves powwow dancing), and others will be recognizable to a broad swath of kids (he rides a bike and likes toys). 

Author Sherman Alexie has crafted a word-perfect, page-turning text, and Yuyi Morales' bold, colorful art couldn't be more fun and inviting.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about names. What are the names in your family? Do they reflect your family's culture? Do you have friends with names from different cultures?

  • What details in the story make it clear that the boy is Native American? What details make you feel that he's a kid who's similar to lots of kids?

  • If you could give yourself a name that celebrates something cool that you've done, what would it be?

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