- Thao by Thao Lam
Trade ed. ISBN 9781771474320 $17.95
Reviewed from digital galleys R Gr. 2–4
In this compact picture book memoir, author/illustrator Lam (The Paper Boat, BCCB 7/20) reconstructs what it was like to have a Vietnamese name in an Anglo-oriented Canadian classroom. Expanding on the opening thesis “It’s not easy being Thao,” she recalls the ways a perfectly straightforward name could be mangled by persons who sometimes seemed bent on making it harder than it is. Young Thao generally accepts the iterations with a mixture of patience and exasperation (“THOU. Sigh. TOE? Not. Even. Close”), or even resignation, responding “Here” with a raised hand to the attendance call “Towel?” A word cloud of names, however, demonstrates that confusion and teasing also crosses the line into hurtfulness—China Girl, Owie, Towie, Tao the Cow—and at that point Thao abruptly opts for Jennifer. It makes her life marginally easier in some respects, but she’s not about to abandon her identity; when it comes to her the delicious lunch of gỏi cuốn, clearly [End Page 302] in a class by itself next to her schoolmates’ bland fare, she’s one hundred percent Vietnamese right down to the diacritics. Collage illustrations combine a paper cast with trimmed snapshots of Thao herself, a visual strategy that grounds the story in an all-too-real past and underscores her unassailable pride in identity. This is a genial but pointed primary-grade reminder that names matter, and names deserve respect. Teachers sharing this in the classroom can head right over to teachingbooks. net to play Lam’s self-introduction, unambiguously pronounced.