it matter to author Sherman Alexie that heíll be
discussing his new childrenís picture book just a few
miles from a school district that targeted one of his
books a couple of years ago?
not at all," Alexie said, chuckling.
the years, Alexie has developed a thick skin. His work
has made the American Library Associationís list of
most-challenged books and earned bans at many libraries
and school districts.
2014, the Highland Park Independent School District in
University Park, Texas, took his book "The
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," along
with six others, off the districtís approved reading
list before reversing its decision a few weeks later.
couldnít specifically recall details of the Highland
Park ISD incident. But at the time, he tweeted that the
"real reason" his book gets banned is
"because itís about the triumph of a liberal
Native American rebel."
create more interest and more love for my book,"
Alexie said in an interview. "You want to make sure
every kid in your community reads a certain book? Tell a
kid he canít read it."
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," a
young-adult novel, is marked with strong language,
including racial slurs. Alexieís book tells the
near-autobiographical story of a teen who grows up in
Washington state on the Spokane Indian Reservation but
leaves to attend an all-white high school in a farm
book, which made The New York Timesí best-seller list
and won the 2007 National Book Award for Young Peopleís
Literature, is typical of Alexieís style. From his
books to his poems to his screenplay of 1998ís
"Smoke Signals" movie, his work takes an
unvarnished look at the pains and humor that mark the
contemporary world that American Indians face.
an illustrated childrenís book, "Thunder Boy
Jr.," doesnít have his biting social commentary,
but Alexie believes it might be the first picture book
about a contemporary American Indian family. In a recent
Cooperative Childrenís Book Center study detailing
multicultural representation in books and authors,
American Indians were the least-represented ethnic
Boy Jr." is a 518-word read over 40 colorful pages
that were designed by Mexico-based artist Yuvi Morales.
While not controversial, the book sends a message about
children seeking their own identities.
lived with the magic and loss of being named after my
father my whole life," said Alexie, a Seattle
talked about "Thunder Boy Jr." and other
topics ahead of his appearance at the DMA. Here are
highlights from the conversation.
Where did you find your inspiration for "Thunder
Boy Jr."? Are you Thunder Boy Jr.?
Heís named after his father. Heís Thunder Boy Jr. Iím
Sherman Alexie Jr. Iíve lived with the magic and loss
of being named after my father my whole life. The
original impulse came at my fatherís funeral in 2003
when they lowered the coffin and I looked at his
gravestone that had my name on it. Thereís a
gravestone on my reservation that says Sherman Alexie.
So the weight of carrying my fatherís name really hit
me at that moment in a way it hadnít before. And I
knew then, that I would write about it. So, Iíve been
carrying around [the idea], trying to figure out how to
write about it. I couldnít have predicted it would be
in a picture book.
Did the finished product meet your expectations?
What I wanted to do was to have a really positive,
loving book about an Indian kid in search of his
identity. I wanted it to be a beautiful positive
adventure. Not something done out of loss but something
done out of personal identity, something magical and
wonderful and loving.
Is writing a childrenís book a challenge?
It was the hardest thing Iíve ever had to write. You
only get so many words. Youíre writing for the kid but
also for the adult whoís reading to the kid. Itís a
really difficult combination.
What part of the story was the most difficult to convey?
One of the challenges was how the father accepts the sonís
desire to change his name. And we went through various
ways of portraying that. That was the most difficult
part Ö to show a loving father reacting to his son
wanting to change his name. We really worked on that.
There were a lot of drafts of that. There must have been
20 drafts of that particular page, trying to figure out
how to make it work best.
Is naming your children after yourself a bad thing?
Itís very possessive and very colonial. From the
beginning, itís a case of parenting that Iím not
into. Iím not into the idea of my kid being like me.
Or doing what I do, or loving what I love. Iíve always
wanted them to follow their own paths. I guess when you
name your kid after yourself, youíre already trying to
determine their future. Itís always men doing it. And
How do you deal with this with your own children?
I donít push anything on them. I present them options
and they choose. Growing up Native for me and my peers,
there was so much negativity attached to it. You dealt
with so much awfulness and so much racism around you. My
kids have not dealt with that. My kids have not been
forced to feel or made to feel or have the need to feel
inferior because theyíre Native. Thereís a quiet
confidence about them in their Native identity. Theyíre
urban kids. Theyíre not from the "rez." Theyíre
not dancers or singers. Being Native is who they are,
but itís not their entire identity. Theyíre
guitarists, saxophone players, video game players. They
sing a cappella. They love American history and comic