Archive for December 2nd, 2016


by Sam Juliano

Thunder Boy Jr. has a problem.  He has been saddled with the most unconventional name since that imp like creature, who possessed the skill to turn straw into gold disappeared after losing his temper many years ago. Though the tyke who looks like a younger version of Elvis adores his father, he wants his own identity.  One’s name in life the way Thunder Boy thinks is an all-encompassing label that embodies all he does, all he represents, all he accomplishes.  As such this fiercely independent toddler rejects any notion that his name must be patterned on the characteristics or exploits of any member of his kin.  He wants a normal name.  His mom is known as Agnes, his sister is Lillian – those don’t attract any kind of attention, nor a second thought.  Secretly he abhors this cursed identification, as it flies in the face of what he has done and what he hopes to achieve.  It is almost as if he is a clone, with his entire life spoken for in advance.  The boy thinks his father is awesome, but he is a different person who must make his mark in the world.  Creativity and world view are not attributes to be passed down from generation to generation, they are to be developed and stood for.  But there is a hitch in this unique scenario.  This family is native American, and the significance of a name far outstrips its regard in a conventional household where it is largely an afterthought.

In the life-affirming, universal picture book Thunder Boy Jr., written by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales, a personal aspiration that transcends parental expectation eventually segues into a common understanding via the bonding of father and son, which is the central dynamic in the book, even with mother and daughter a vital part of this baptism-under-fire equation.   Alexie, himself a Native American, is a celebrated, award-winning writer, whose noted works of fiction include The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Reservation Blues, and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.  Like his titular character he was named after his father.  But the real challenge in Thunder Boy Jr. was to bring a compelling cultural element to a story with an omnipresent theme, to bridge the past with the present, but in so doing amplify a tradition that held a vital importance in Indian households.  Even the book’s electrifying resolution doesn’t disavow the familial institutions that made passage particularly meaningful, but rather brings these all-too-enterprising kinsfolk to a shared understanding of cultural assimilation. (more…)

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