Wednesday, June 25th, 2008
Book Review: Thunder Cake
Alternate title: How to defang a thunderstorm for little kids
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.
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."
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.