My given name is an unusual one. However, it is not as unusual as Thao Lam’s. Still, it was/could be hurtful to be called almost anything but my name. A name that I have grown to appreciate over the years. Also, I do not like my name being misspelled (I had an art teacher from kindergarten to almost junior high that always added two “n’s” to a one “n” name). Thankfully, nobody really picked on me about my name (and it wasn’t until high school someone thought of the joke about my last name, which is one I use to tell people how to spell it, so it’s all good there), though I did get a teacher who decided to give me a nickname I hated (a shortening of my given name that is perfectly fine, but it was also the teachers name, and not only did I not like the association, I never asked to be called anything but my given name. Not to mention, I have never cared for the name to start with).
With that said, I understand where Lam was coming from. Having people add letters to her name, taking them out, not bothering to learn the proper pronunciation, and thinking it was weird. Even Lam felt it was weird sometimes. I cannot, however, understand exactly what she went through as her culture and name was different and mine just was not the usual Jennifer, Mary, Stephanie, Elizabeth/Liz/Beth, and Stacy/Stacey. At least in sixth grade my name was normalized as another gal came in with the same name and spelling (and she had the same trapper keeper as me! Which I never forgave her for…. (smile/winky face).
Therefore, in Thao: A Picture Book I can learn about what it was like for Lam to find out who she really is while dealing with the ups and downs of her situation. I can learn how to pronounce and spell her name appropriately. I can understand trying to be true to who you really are. I can appreciate and learn about a wonderful person who is willing to share a piece of themselves.
And I can really enjoy the artwork. Every so often, Lam adds a real photograph into the drawn image. This is our real Thao Lam during her growing up years. This splash of different shows the separation of the character from their classmates. And the simplistic elements help keep you focused on the story at hand. Overall, this book could have been negatively simplified in the art, yet this format is the perfect addition to create the overall work.
All ages can enjoy Lam’s book, but the older student (as it would be good in a classroom setting) would best grasp all concepts. I would recommend for a humanities or art class as the best locations to find it, but anyplace could work as well.