written by Jennifer Fosberry, illustrated by Mike Litwin
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Publisher: Sourcebooks, March 2011
My rating: 4/5 stars
In My Name Is Not Alexander, a young boy goes throughout his day, refusing to be called by his own name, Alexander, but rather choosing, each time, a new (historical) hero to be called after. Each time his father calls him the name he last used, he chooses a new name–that of a specific hero. The story has a playful feel to it, and a good rhythm, with the reader quickly expecting that the boy will try on a new hero and name. In the first few pages the text felt a bit stilted, but it quickly became a very enjoyable read. The story encourages the reader to dream big–to know that they can do anything they want to, become anything they want. I like that the heroes are not just traditional ones, but also include an inventor and a dancer.
At first I found the text “the father,” and “the boy” disconcerting and distancing, but I grew to expect it, and I suspect that wording was used to make the characters more universal, more easily identified with by the reader. The father goes along with the boy’s new name each time, being patient and encouraging, and always understanding which hero the boy means, though the boy only uses first names (which helps with the story flow). Fosberry’s text is made up entirely of dialog, which helps the story move quickly, as does that Fosberry made sure we only see each new name and event they are going to, not any extraneous details.
Litwin’s imaginative, vibrant illustrations add so much to this book. The life in them reaches off the page, the colors vibrant and rich, the characters with an almost 3-D quality to them. Adults will love the depth, the perspective, the way Litwin is aware of light and shadow, and the textures and subtle patterns, while young readers will like the almost cartoon-like appeal, and the things that the teddy bear is doing in every second illustration.
I love when an illustrator enriches the text, adding images that help make the story stronger, the text richer. Litwin creates a visual link from page to page; with the text alone, we would sometimes miss out on exactly where they were or what event they were coming from, but Litwin makes it clear. Litwin also visually shows us the context for each hero. For instance, from the words alone “I am Joseph, the greatest, proudest warrior who ever was!” the reader might not understand that Joseph was a Native American leader, but with Litwin’s illustrations showing the chief appear through smoke (the teddy bear fanning it), and the teepees growing along into the modern world, it becomes clear.
Readers will love seeing how the boy’s teddy bear, who is clearly just an inanimate, normal teddy bear in the illustrations where the boy is a boy, come alive to take part in the boy’s imaginative quests into being a different person, actively helping him (pitching for Jackie, turning a crank for Thomas, and more).
Parents, teachers, and curious readers will like that there is a section at the back with brief biographies and the full names of each historical hero, as well as a list of other books to check out on those figures.
This is an enjoyable, encouraging book. Recommended!
Source: Copy from publisher