Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie (picture book review)

thunderboyjr_alexie_hachetteI am named after my dad…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. (pp. 6-8)

When an author of some repute suddenly (well, suddenly to the reader) comes out with a children’s picture book, I count myself among the skeptics.  But I trundled myself down to a Powell’s branch store to buy a brand new, full price picture book last May when Sherman Alexie was making an author appearance.  He read the book to the audience and followed this by having all of the children come up front and do an interactive read-aloud with him, and he told stories of reading books to his sons a thousand times and how this was part of his goal in writing this picture book though his sons are now in their teens.  And I could definitely see this being one of those books, particularly for little boys.

Don’t get me wrong.  My dad is awesome.

But I don’t want the same name as him.

I WANT MY OWN NAME. (pp.13-14)

Thunder Boy Jr. is a little boy who wants a name of his own, one different from his father, Thunder Boy Sr.  He comes up with some humorous possibilities, based on different likes and skills.  In Yuyi Morales’ wonderful illustrations, each of these ideas is accompanied by Jr.’s father in some different guise.  He is the wild orca when Jr. is “Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth,” then the mountain for “Touch the Clouds.” And throughout the illustrations, Jr. and his father are joined by his mother and little sister.  In the end, Thunder Boy Jr. is renamed Lightning and says of his new name that…

Together, my dad I will become amazing weather.  Our love will be loud and it will be bright. (p.30)

In talking about this book, the author explained how he disliked his name as a child (his father’s name is also Sherman) and how he came to better understand it.  He also talked about the Native American tradition of giving names, and how he would give his sons different names during their childhood.

All of the author’s explanations and stories have enhanced my appreciation of the book, but this does not change the fact that my skepticism was unwarranted.  This is a delightful, colorful picture book that has potential to be a lot of fun as a read-aloud.  As someone who disliked her name for a time as a child and as the sister of not a Jr. but a III, I think this may be of particular interest in families with unusual or passed-down first names.

This is a story of family and identity.  I particularly appreciate the strong statements of love throughout, and how the illustrator has included a very dynamic pair in the mother, Agnes, and sister Lilliane, though they are barely present in the text.

Highly recommended for those who enjoy picture books with a fun story that lends itself to spirited read-aloud (many pages contain text in all caps, in speech bubbles, that just beg to be read louder or in chorus).  The illustrations are a further delight, bringing color and whimsy while portraying a loving family and their dog, incorporating culture and enhancing the story.  I only hope that Agnes and Lilliane get their own story soon and that it include Agnes’ motorcycle.


Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales | Little, Brown and Company, 2016 | hardcover, 32 pages

Read more about Thunder Boy Jr. on it’s Amazon page at ( is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.)


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