This is the story of how young Patricia Polacco's wise Russian grandmother helped her get over a fear of thunderstorms. On summer days Patricia hates to hear the rumbling thunder of a storm in the distance. She fears “the sound of thunder more than anything.” But her grandmother, Babushka, knows exactly what to do – it’s time to make Thunder Cake. Thunder Cake is special; it must be made while the storm is brewing and finished just as the storm arrives. Although Patricia is scared, she helps Babushka collect the ingredients for the cake on the farm. As they gather and bake, Babushka teaches Patricia how to count the seconds between the thunder and the lightning to figure out how far away the storm is. Patricia says she’s still scared of the storm, but Babushka brushes her fear aside pointing out all the things Patricia did to collect ingredients for the cake, things only a brave person could do. “Brave people can’t be afraid of a sound, child.”
As always, Polacco’s illustrations are intricate and evocative. Babushka is at once stern, strong and warmly comforting. Polacco has carefully rendered items that make this old farm come to life: beautiful wood furniture, metal milk cans, and old-fashioned wooden butter churns. The resemblance between the girl and her grandmother is obvious in their matching smiles and similar ways of standing. The text is balanced between dialogue and narrative and feels much like a story that would be told by the fire on a stormy night. Counting the seconds between the thunder and lightning pushes the story along and adds a touch of urgency. The last page of the book includes the recipe for Thunder Cake.
The length of this story make it perfect for elementary school aged kids. Pair it with Thunder Rose, Dust Devil or All The Water in the World for a storytime about storms. You could also pair it with books about bravery, such as Shelia Rae the Brave or Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears.
Create your own thunder and lightning with these activities posted on the Deceptively Educational blog. Talk about the reason that thunder and lightning arrive at different times (the speed of light vs. the speed of sound). Discuss how air pressure changes before/during/after storms. Make your own barometer to measure these changes.
Watch Polacco talk about Thunder Cake, as well as her childhood and family, in this Reading Rocket Interview. The interview is only 12 minutes, but skip to 9:00 if you just want to hear her story about the origins of Thunder Cake.
Check out Polacco’s Thunder Cake web page, which includes discussion questions and activities, as well as epostcards for kids to send to friends.
Also, a great big shout out to Carrie for telling me about this book. I'm so glad you remembered this story from your grade school years!