Are your children scared of thunder or fascinated by it? In our house, the answer is a very strong “Yes!” to both! We live in an area of the country that gets little rain and even fewer storms, so thunder is a real novelty for our girls, something they only experience when we visit family in the summers. As a result, afternoon thunderstorms are something they really look forward to, but nighttime thunderstorms can scare them.
Enter Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco. Thunder Cake both feeds their fascination with storms, helps them overcome their worries about thunder, AND is all about cake! Read on to see what makes Thunder Cake delightful enough to have been on repeat in our house all summer.
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As with most of her books, Thunder Cake is based on experiences from Polacco’s own childhood, which you can read about in the introduction to the story. Thunder Cake tells the story of Polacco’s summer visits to her Babushka’s (grandmother’s) farm in Michigan, when Polacco “feared the sound of thunder more than anything.” Fortunately, wise and endearing Babushka formulated a creative way to help Polacco overcome these fears by recognizing all the courage that she carries deep inside her.
So how exactly does Babushka show young Polacco that she’s actually so brave no thunder could possibly scare her? She invites her along to make a Thunder Cake! Intrigued by the concept, Polacco inches her way out from under the bed, where she had been hiding from the thunder, to hear more about how to make this cake. Counting the seconds after seeing lightning but before hearing the thunder to see how far away the storm is, Polacco and Babushka make their way around the farm, gathering the ingredients they need. Taking eggs from “mean old Nellie Peck Hen,” walking through Tangleweed Woods to the dry shed, climbing a trellis to pick tomatoes… Polacco does it all, and just in time to get the cake in the oven and bake before the storm hits Babushka’s house.
But it isn’t until they are waiting for the cake to bake that Babushka tells Polacco exactly why she can’t possibly be afraid of thunder — she’s way too brave! By recounting all the courageous acts that Polacco performed in order to make the cake, Babushka proves, “From where I sit, only a very brave person could have done all them things! Brave people can’t be afraid of a sound, child.” And Polacco “never feared the voice of thunder again.”
And Polacco’s illustrations here are just as delightfully detailed and unique as ever. The folk patterns, the details in Babushka’s face, and the textures in the sky and the storm as it approaches all transport you right to Babushka’s farm, where you can experience the joy of overcoming a major fear and enjoying the other side of the storm.
Be sure, as well, to notice the recipe for Thunder Cake at the back of the book! We took advantage of a stormy afternoon with grandparents earlier this summer to make our own Thunder Cake, and it was delicious! (And no, you can’t taste the tomatoes at all…).
If you liked this, you’ll love any other books by Patricia Polacco. Some of our other favorites include Thank You, Mr. Falker and Chicken Sunday, both of which we’ve featured before. Then, be sure to check out our lists of books for coping with fear and worry and books featuring courageous role models, as well as my list of 90 Books for 90 Days of Summer (2020) edition!
What is your favorite Patricia Polacco book?