Thundercake – An Amazing Read Aloud When It Starts to Thunder

This year I have switched roles and am doing a lot of substitute/relief teaching. Because of this, I spent some time over the weekend putting together a kit to carry with me of back up games, activities, and books to have on hand in case plans are not left. In doing so, I came across this gem, and wanted to make sure ALL of my teacher friends out there know about this fantastic book. It should really be in EVERY teacher’s emergency read aloud kit, because you never know when a thunderstorm will happen…

I first brought Patricia Polacco’s Thundercake into my classroom library when I was teaching kindergarten. Somewhat similar to the first snow, I learned that the first thunderstorm during school hours was an event that brought all other activities to an end – or at least a pause. When a good storm got going, it quickly became clear that some kids were quite scared, and continuing with their regular learning was simply not going to happen until we addressed it.

In this fantastic book, a young girl (who is Patricia at a young age, even though it is told as a narrative rather than an autobiography) gets frightened when she hears thunder. She is home with her grandma on their farm, and grandma states that it is perfect weather for making thundercake. She coaxes the girl out from under the bed, teaches her how to count the seconds between a lightning strike and the crash of thunder, and suggests that they bake thundercake.

Most of the book then involves the little girl gathering ingredients for the cake. Each time she goes to retrieve something, she needs to do something brave. She faces mean old Nellie Peck Hen when gathering the eggs, collects milk from old Kick Cow, gathers chocolate, sugar, and flour from the dark dry shed, and even climbs up the trellis to pick tomatoes and strawberries. Grandma doesn’t make a fuss about any of this. She simply says what they need to gather and calmly reminds the little girl that she is safe and fine.

By the time the thunderstorm is really booming they have gathered all the ingredients, made the cake, and are waiting for it to bake. It is almost a race between them and the storm – will they finish the cake before the lightning and thunder happen at the same time?

And right about then, Grandma points out that the girl is terribly brave. Of course, only someone quite brave could have faced Nellie Peck Hen, Kick Cow, the dark old dry shed, and the tall trellis. The little girl had been so distracted – and determined – that she had not given herself time to get too scared. By the time the cake was ready, the storm was booming, but she had learned to see courage in herself.

When the thunder starts and I am at school, I try to channel “Grandma” and say, “Ooooh, perfect. This is perfect weather for reading Thundercake.” Since the story is so gripping, we get caught up in it, and any thunder outside becomes part of the storytelling. It works like a charm to calm any students that are afraid, and it is a beautiful story for those who aren’t as well.

I seriously recommend all of Patricia Polacco’s books. But my personal favorite is Thundercake. What is on your “must have” book list?

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