An honest #OwnVoices story about growing up with a name that is unfamiliar to the kids around you, told with humor and heart by critically acclaimed author/illustrator Thao Lam
Even though it’s only four simple, familiar letters long, nobody can ever pronounce Thao’s name. She’s been called Theo, Tail, even Towel! But the teasing names—Tofu, Tiny, China Girl—are worse. Maybe it’s time to be someone else? Thao decides to try on a different name, something easy, like Jennifer.
It works, but only until she opens her lunchbox to find her mother’s Vietnamese spring rolls, gỏi cuốn—Thao’s favorite! Now, it feels a lot more comfortable to be herself.
Simple on the surface, this story inspired by Thao’s own childhood is full of humor, heart, and important ideas of diversity, inclusion, and cultural pride. The story will be instantly relatable to readers who have ever felt different.
Designed with a playful emphasis on typography, and Thao’s own childhood photos added to her signature cut-paper collage, THAO champions being true to yourself and your background, and being empathetic towards others. It is a celebration of all that’s in a name and the power of owning your identity.
About the author
THAO Lam has been creating pictures for as long as she can remember. For her, drawing has always felt as natural as breathing. She has an insatiable love for coloured and textured papers, which she uses to create her exuberant collages. Passionate about children’s books, Thao is especially interested in visual storytelling. She draws inspiration from the stories she hears, from the beauty in everyday things, and from the work of the many illustrators she admires. As an art buyer for an education publishing company, she has the opportunity to work with thousands of different artists from all around the world. Since studying illustration for three years at Sheridan College in Toronto, Thao has developed her dual careers of illustrating and art buying. Her art works have appeared in publications such as Cricket and Highlight magazines. In 2008, she won the Highlights Five Pewter Plate award for verse illustration of the year. She has twice been chosen for the American Illustration Award. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
- Commended, NYPL Vibrant Voices selection
- Commended, A Best Children's Book of the Year
- Commended, USBBY Outstanding International Books List
- Commended, Best Books for Kids and Teens
- Commended, A CBC Best Canadian Picture Book of 2021
- Commended, A Junior Library Guild selection
- Commended, A Toronto Public Library First and Best List selection
"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."
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"The autobiographical element here adds a distinctively personal inflection. A lighthearted assertion of identity, particularly strong on appeal for younger children who have had to adjust to the demands of white American culture."
School Library Journal
"This relatable story can prompt discussions about identity, diversity, acceptance, bullying and self-love ... A wonderful story of inclusion to add to your classroom bookshelves."
"A terrifically complex picture book that packs depth as well as moments of levity within the limits of its format. Its sincerely empathetic perspective offers encouragement to readers with similar life experiences, while all readers (children and parents alike) may be inspired by THAO to reflect on how their own actions can better support and celebrate cultural diversity."
Quill & Quire
"Thao's story is empowering and the message about the importance of using one's correct name is meaningful."
Literacy On the Mind
"[Thao Lam] is so elegantly good at telling a story in an authentic, child-like and funny tone ... There are lots of thought-provoking issues addressed in THAO within the delightful and humorous storytelling"
Canadian Review of Materials
"Exquisite collaged art mixed with photographs ... Nothing is 'foreign' if you take time to know it, and the deeply touching THAO soars through its eloquent understatement of this truth."
The New York Times
"Lam depicts young Thao’s predicament using visual precision and detail in her text and illustrations, delivering her message without fuss or complication and with a touch of humor."
"Exquisite ... A story that will resonate with children who find fitting in a challenge."
The Globe and Mail
"Affirmational for students with names that are frequently mispronounced and instructional for others. This book would be a perfect opener for building community at the part of the school year, emphasizing the importance of getting things right from the start."
Youth Services Book Review
"Anyone in an unfamiliar environment will be able to relate... This work’s clever construction and stark simplicity embody a kaleidoscope of 'mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.'"
"Rendered in Thao Lam’s playful cut paper collage, this humorous and resonant story is for anyone who’s ever felt out of place. It’s also a celebration of each of our names, our identities, and our diversity."
Avery & Augustine
"Lam poignantly shares events from her childhood ... Simple, yet profound, and full of heart and empathy."
Sal's Fiction Addiction