Thunder Boy Jr.

ThunderBoyJr

Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Sherman Alexie/Yuyi Morales

There aren’t enough words to describe the joy that is this book and how ecstatic I am to know it. I feel privileged to be a bookseller and share this book with the world. I get to put this book into little hands and I’m hoping that kids will connect to Thunder Boy Jr.

I’ve been anticipating this collaboration for over a year, since it was announced, because Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales create magic…and together?? Rarely do we get such cosmic levels of possibility and creativity as this. I’m calling this book for, at the very least, a Caldecott Honor but it deserves a Caldecott Medal. I doubt the Newbery Committee will choose a picture book winner again this year but the story/writing is POWER.

You’d think Thunder Boy Jr. is a super special name; that only one person in the world has it but actually that’s not true. Thunder Boy is named after his dad and though his dad is great, he wants his own name! Thunder Boy likes to do things like ride his bike, roll in the mud and Grass Dance so maybe his new name could be related to those things? With a nickname like Little Thunder, it sure is easy to feel small but his bright and rambunctious personality (and the love between him and his father) will see him through.

ThunderBoy2

Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Sherman Alexie/Yuyi Morales

Rarely do we get to see picture books about Native American families and this important and beautiful book should be in every library. I’m hoping teachers and families around the world will love Thunder Boy Jr. because it speaks to individuality, growing up and identity (and just happens to feature a loving Native family.) Indigeneity is central to the story but also it isn’t. It’s SO lovely to read a picture book that talks about powwow and how names are given and earned in Native cultures! Wow! ❤ Though the story focuses on a son-dad relationship, readers will love Little Thunder’s cool mom and his cute little sister who, by the way, have “fancy-normal” names.

Yuyi Morales’ illustrations have so much raw energy and vivid color and for that reason she’s one of my favorites (I’ve reviewed Just a Minute! in the past). I love how she draws the big body of Thunder Boy Sr. next his small son; he really is like his namesake. Earthy & bright colors and lots of movement fill the pages; this family bursts onto the scene like a lighting bolt and at the end of the book, I feel as though I know them. I enjoy how the writing matches the illustrations exactly in some parts of the book but Morales also uses her illustrations to create a separate story that gives us more insight into Little Thunder’s personality. He rocks out hard on a guitar but his dad is angry about the broken strings and he slyly steals his sister’s red ball as he continues sharing his story.

Thunder Boy Jr. is the strongest picture book so far of 2016 and I’m hoping people will love it and cherish it. Something tells me Little Thunder would gobble up all the love and attention…especially now that he has confidence in his brand new name!

MeWithThunderBoy

All the love and happiness

 

P.S. Since this book is out in the wild now, great discussions are starting. It has a lot of potential to teach but it also discusses aspects of native cultures that might need explanation to some readers. Please check out Debbie Reese’s two posts about how to read this book with your children; it gives context that the book itself is lacking. They are here and here.

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Love, Humor, Identity, Struggle With Identity, Individuality, Growing Up, Native Americans, Father-Son, Siblings, Frustration, Powwow, Cultural Diversity, Diversity, Read-Aloud, Discussion
Book Info: Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie/Illustrated by Yuyi Morales, 2016 Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), ISBN: 9780316013727

Jingle Dancer

JingleDancer

Image Credit: HarperCollins, Cynthia Leitich Smith/Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu

The next book to celebrate Native American Heritage Month is this gorgeously illustrated one called Jingle Dancer. In college I planned our annual powwow and I LOVE a good powwow so I was very excited to finally sit down and read this book. Jingle Dress also happens to be one of my favorite dances and powwow regalia. Maybe it’s the quiet confidence of the steps and the swish-swishswish of the metal cones moving across the floor in beat with the drum. It’s a beauty!

Jingle Dress Dance at Gathering of Nations. Watch Willow Jack in the Black and Neon Green! She’s my favorite. Her footwork and grace! 🙂

Cynthia Leitich Smith is Muscogee Creek and Jingle Dancer is about a little Muscogee Creek/ Ojibway girl who loves to dance. From the moment Jenna wakes up she hears the metal cones clink as she thinks about her grandma’s bounce-step. She’s ready to try dancing at the next powwow but her dress isn’t ready; she needs four rows of jingles for her dress to be able to sing. And so, she sets out to visit various family members and friends throughout the day, hears their stories and asks to borrow a row of jingles. With all her jingles in place, she remembers the people who helped her, as she proudly dances at the powwow. The Jingle Dress dance originated as a dance of healing, so like Jenna, dancers often dance for someone special or sick. Make sure to read the Author’s Note in the back of the book because there’s a lot of great information.

Leitich Smith is Native and the illustrators Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu are African American and Chinese. What a diverse team of authors and illustrators! This is SO nice to see! Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu’s illustrations glow; the watercolor paintings carry the rhythm of the dance and show the love between Jenna and her grandmother. Leitich Smith’s rich storytelling and the realistic illustrations make me feel like I’m back at a powwow. I love how this book shows a contemporary, loving Native family; many people think Native people are only in the past so representation is important.

I hope this picture book encourages you to learn more about powwows (the dances, the regalia, the food and the fun) and to maybe even seek one out when spring season comes!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Native American Heritage Month, Powwow, Girl Power, Dance, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Family, Community
Book Info: Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith/Illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, 2000 HarperCollins, ISBN: 9780688162412