Thunder Boy Jr. Literature Guide

Grade Level: 
PreK, K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Native Americans
by Sherman Alexie - A guide for parents, teachers, and group leaders to accompany the reading of this picture book. The guide below provides before, during, and after-reading discussion questions. Choose from activities and discussion questions to reflect on personal identity and our place in the world.

Sherman Alexie is a well known author for teens and adults. He wrote this, his first picture book, in part because there isn't enough representation of indigenous people in picture books. In his loving family, Thunder Boy, Jr. struggles to find his own place and name. He loves his dad, but he wants his own name. We learn about the things he loves, the things he's good at, and the ways he contributes to his world. The warm, inspiring ending shows that together he and his father light up the world. This is a wonderful book to introduce conversations about our own role in the family and how we can make the world a better place. 

Before Reading

Ask: What adjectives do you think might best describe a person named Thunder Boy? 

Show: Look at the cover. What can you tell about how the characters feel about each other? The characters in this book are Native American, or indigenous to the United States. Indigenous names often come from nature. 

Connect: What is the story behind your name? What do you like or not like about your name? 

During Reading

Ask: What are some things we learn about Thunder Boy, Jr. while he's coming up with names for himself?

Show: Look at the pictures on the page where Thunder Boy, Jr. shouts, "I hate my name!" Why do you think those animals are on the page? 

Connect: Imagine you are trying to come up with your new name based on what you are good at. What are some things you are good at and things you have done? 

After Reading

Ask: The final words of the book are, "My dad and I will light up the sky." What could that mean?

Show: Look at the page where his dad holds him up on a grassy globe. Thunder Boy, Jr. said that his dad read his mind; his dad read his heart. What does it mean and feel like when someone can read your heart?

Connect: We are all capable of lighting up the world by doing our best and being generous. How does it help to have a partner, a loved one, or a friend when we want to light up the world?


  1. Make a list of ways you are doing good in the world. How are you "lighting up the world"?
  2. Draw a picture of the community you live in. Community can be many different things. Your family is a small community. Your town, your faith group, or your classroom are communities where people have a shared interest or common place. Put a name at the top of the community you draw. 
  3. Tell someone about your family. What are the names and relationships in your family? Families come together in lots of different ways. What are the things that make each person unique, and what do you have in common? What is the best thing about your family?
  4. If you could name yourself after something in nature that describes who you are and what you love, what would it be?
  5. Look up the indigenous cultures that live in and around your area. Maybe one of them is your culture. Learn about this culture and what the people are doing today. Write a paragraph about what you learned.