Back in August of 2012, I posted about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I loved the book then and still do. When I discovered Mr. Alexie had written a picture book, I rushed to get a copy. I can see why Publisher’s Weekly listed it as one of the best picture books of 2016. My students loved it—both the story and the bold, captivating illustrations by Yuyi Morales.
I read the book, first, to a group of students that included a young boy on the autism spectrum. He was so enthusiastic, he insisted we read it again as soon as I turned the last page. The others in the group readily agreed. The following day, Calvin burst through my door and said, “let’s read my favorite book!” When I asked him what that might be, (although I was pretty sure I knew the answer) he said, “THUNDER BOY JR!” And he said it with thunder in his voice. He has requested the book many times since and he’s not the only one to do so. It was a hit with all of my students.
The kids could relate to Thunder Boy Jr. wanting to carve out his own identity. But they laughed when they heard his ideas for a name that differed from his father’s: “Old Toys Are Awesome” and “Mud In His Ears.” When I read the line, “I want a name that celebrates something cool that I’ve done,” they didn’t laugh, they murmured, “yeah.” After we closed the book, my students decided to come up with new names for themselves, names like “Flying Through the Air,” “Firetruck Boy,” “Princess Sparkle,” “Peanut Butter Kid,” “I Can Do Anything,” and “Mr. Amazing.”
I especially liked those last two. As the new year approaches, perhaps we should all think of new names to give ourselves and those around us, names that celebrate hopes and dreams so we can “light up the sky” like Thunder Boy Jr. and his father at the end of the story and like Sherman Alexie does with his writing.