Thao is a short, sweet picture book written from the author’s life experience, a story about a Vietnamese girl who questions her name and her identity. As an immigrant to Canada, her name has been mispronounced, misspelled and made fun of. Her unique and generational name, Thao, has been replaced with “Tofu,” “Thale,” “Tao the Cow” and more, so she decides to change her name to Jennifer. However, by changing her name, she realizes she can’t ever replace her true identity and culture, such as eating her favourite food, Goi Cuon!
This relatable story can prompt discussions about identity, diversity, acceptance, bullying and self-love. It is a suitable read-aloud in the primary grades; however, the depth of discussions can certainly be appreciated by junior grades.
There are various approaches to integrating this book into your curriculum. In language, it can be a read-aloud and a discussion starter where students make personal connections with their names. It’s a great story to read at the beginning of the school year to create an inclusive and inviting classroom by allowing students to share their names, how they are pronounced, what they mean and how to write them in another language (if applicable). In social studies, the history of names can be explored by looking at Indigenous communities or cultures around the world. In health and character education, discussions of empathy, feelings and verbal bullying can be discussed. Additionally, in math, students can look for patterns within their own name and those of their classmates.
The illustrations are beautiful, as the author includes her own childhood pictures along with craft paper art. She uses textured paper and pencil crayons to create the illustrations and to highlight specific text. The inside of the front and back cover is filled with portraits of diverse students and their unique names. The “About the Author” section includes a brief background of Thao Lam and her story of immigrating to Toronto, Canada along with how she got her name.
Overall, this is a wonderful story of inclusion to add to your classroom bookshelves.
Manprit Rai is a member of the Peel Teacher Local.