I am delighted to read another #ownvoice story that highlights the concept of diversity through names. I began reading this book by removing the dust jacket and discussed the case cover of the book. We started making comparison between the dust jacket and the front case cover. The discussion went further as to why the illustrator, designer or editor used the trimmed image from a photograph and superimposed it on a red background. The end paper with ethnically diverse children prompted students to make deep and meaningful connections to the story, at the same time it nudged them to have aesthetic appreciation and literary understanding of this book.
In this story, young Thao Lam described how she felt as an outcast because her name didn’t fit in among the popular names in her community. Thao had to witness how letters were added, scrambled, and left behind. Her teachers called her Thou, Theo, or Towel. This was incredibly relatable to me when Thao decided to change her name to ‘Jennifer’ so that it’s easier and less likely to be made fun of. During my school days, I had to make many adjustments to the spelling of my name so that my classmates could pronounce it comfortably. Every page in this story emphasised how her identity is viewed and treated differently by adults and kids at her school. The creative typography cues helped my students to infer both intonation and meaning; there were even many miscues during the reading process. The best part of the book is Thao’s signature papercut art which added to the tenderness and humour to the story.
The peritextual features in this book are worthy of attention; it provides clues for children to infer the plot and setting of the story. This important book teaches readers awareness and empathy. It encourages anyone to take pride in their own names and identity.