Book Review: Thunder Cake

Alternate title: How to defang a thunderstorm for little kids

A photo looking up at a mountain tree line with half the sky blue and half filled with billowy white and dark clouds as sunshine shines through the clouds. Photo Copyright 2008 by Cary Bellak.

This storm hit our region last week. Its entrance at sunset was beautiful, but it left 54 lightning-induced forest fires in its wake. The photo is by Cary Bellak, taken at the A. W.
Way Campground in Honeydew, California. Image used with permission. [See Cary's storm cloud photo

A rambunctious thunderstorm hit our area on Friday, the evening my 4-year-old daughter slept over at a friend’s house.

The storm was especially powerful for the three youngsters in the home because we live on the California coast and hear a random thunderclap perhaps twice a year. All the noisy weather occurs inland. My daughter thought the loud booms were going to lift the house.

The mom-in-charge calmed everyone by enlisting the kids in the task of baking a "thunder cake" using eggs fresh from a backyard chicken.

Afterward, she read them a book, Thunder Cake, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco.

Cover of the Thunder Cake depicting a grandmother and her granddaughter standing outside with farm animals as the grandmother points to approaching rain clouds.

It’s a story about the author’s own childhood as she dissolved her fear of thunderstorms with the help of her grandmother on a Michigan farm. (She has written a number of stories about her childhood.)

As summer clouds drift low over the fields… "Grandmother looked at the horizon, drew a deep breath and said, ‘This is Thunder Cake baking weather, all right. Looks like a storm coming to me.’"

Grandma coaxes the girl out from under a bed and says they need to prepare the cake and get it in the oven before the storm arrives, "or it won’t be a real Thunder Cake."

Grandma also explains how to gauge the storm’s distance by counting the seconds from flash-to-bang.

The two visit a barn to collect eggs and milk a cow. Then they walk through scary woods to brave a dark shed where chocolate, sugar and flour are stored. Last, they collect tomatoes and strawberries from a garden trellis.

During each of the tasks thunder is heard and the girl counts to measure the storm’s approach.

Back at the house, the two get the cake in the oven. While it’s cooking, the grandmother talks about how brave the girl was to go outside and do all of the things she did, so surely she cannot be afraid of a sound. And then…

"As rain poured down on our roof, Grandma cut a wedge for each of us. She poured us steaming cups of tea from the samovar. When the thunder ROARED above us so hard it shook the windows and rattled the dishes in the cupboards, we just smiled and ate our Thunder Cake. From that time on, I never feared the voice of thunder again."

A dark photo of a tree-lined neighborhood with several lightning strikes filling the sky above a thick richly textured blanket of dark clouds. Photo Copyright 2008 by Cory Zuspan.

This awesomeness from our storm was captured by Cory Zuspan in McKinleyville, California. Image used with permission.

My daughter saw flashing lights outside, but not the strikes or the ominous clouds.

A close-up of a nighttime lightning strike hitting near or perhaps on a redwood tree that is bent at an angle. Photo Copyright 2008 by Cory Zuspan.

*Ding!* The cake is ready. Yep, more awesomeness from Cory Zuspan in McKinleyville, California. Image used with permission.

The last page of the story includes a recipe for the thunder cake my daughter made and ate that evening. And yes, it did the trick. Fear turned into excitement.

The book is rated for ages 4 to 8, but it can be read to younger children. Or, you can simply show the pictures and explain what you see. There are no scary pictures. The worst it gets is some muted rain.

The illustrations aren’t the style that usually attract me to books (the old "judging a book by its cover" snafu), so I was surprised that the story is told exceptionally well. You could recite it without the pictures and it would be as compelling.

My one criticism is that the grandmother measures distance by equating 1 second with 1 mile. If 10 seconds pass between seeing lightning and hearing the thunder, the storm is 10 miles away, she says. And that is how I was taught as a child too, although I counted time as one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand and so forth.

But when googling the topic, I found source after source stating 5 seconds equals 1 mile (or three seconds equals 1 kilometer). Not that it really matters to a toddler though. The counting activity is simply a way to involve and preoccupy kids so that they await the thunderclap with anticipation instead of fear.

It’s a cool story, one well worth having on tap for stormy weather.

[Thunder Cake at Amazon]

Photo of a meadow and trees behind it stretching to the horizon. A wide swatch of open blue sky is visible with billowy clouds entering at center. Photo copyright 2008 by Cary Bellak.

Another glorious view Cary Bellak captured of the approaching storm. Image used with permission. [See Cary's storm cloud photo


7 Responses to “Book Review: Thunder Cake”

  1. lucky baby says:

    This is one of my favorite books. I can’t wait to read it to my daughter!

    June 25th, 2008 at 4:04 am

  2. STL Mom says:

    Ooh, I love the idea of Thunder Cake. Or any excuse for cake.
    The book that worked for us (here in thunderstorms-all-spring-and-summer-and-occasionally-even-in-winter-land) is called Storm is Coming. A farmer rushes all the animals into the barn because Storm is coming, but none of the animals know who Storm is. They start out scared, but then decide that the rain, thunder and lightning will scare Storm away. The pictures are adorable. We started reading it when the kids were 3 and 6, but at 5 and 8 they still think it is funny.

    June 25th, 2008 at 5:01 am

  3. summer says:

    Thats a really cool idea. We will definitely have to try it especially with hurricane season coming up! When it stormed here this weekend I told my 3 year old daughter that Thunder is just God bowling in heaven and when there is lightening, God is just taking a picture with the winning trophy from his bowling tournament. She didn’t buy it and said, “No mom its just thunder an lightning not God bowling and takin pictures!” Well when we headed out to the car it happened to thunder and lighten really loud and my daughter ran to the car and yelled, “Mommy tell God to stop!!!!!!” lol

    June 25th, 2008 at 7:11 am

  4. Christy says:

    I was terrified of thunder as a child. I remember gettin gstuck in a movie theater in Wilmington, NC during a really really nasty storm. The power went out and I was absolutely terrified. I had to teach myself how to not be afraid of it. I would imagine that it was God bowling and try and figure out how many pins he would knock down with each clap of thunder. I must say that around here, God is quite the bowler.

    June 25th, 2008 at 8:19 am

  5. Kendra says:

    That’s a great idea and fun way of taking the fear out of a storm. Let’s just hope the power doesn’t go out while the “Thunder Cake” is baking :)

    We recently watched the Sound of Music, so singing “My Favorite Things” with Maria has helped in our house as well.

    June 25th, 2008 at 9:23 am

  6. Dani says:

    That sounds like a good idea. We have a lot of thunderstorms in our area and I tell our son that when the clouds are playing, they bump into each other; making noise. Not accurate but for a two year old it does the trick.
    Now on clear puffy cloud days he points at the clouds and asks them to bump together. :)

    June 27th, 2008 at 12:34 pm

  7. Diana says:

    Thank you so much for reminding me of this great book– wish I had remembered it a few weeks ago when my dd was scared of thunder for the first time!

    June 28th, 2008 at 9:18 pm

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