Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco

Thank You, Mr. Falker, Chicken Sunday, Pink and Say, and my very favorite, Thunder Cake. Patricia Polacco remains one of my very favorite children’s authors. Her books are written with so much emotion and feeling, and are based off of her own experiences growing up.

Thunder Cake is my favorite book to read aloud to students of any age. I looked closer at it the other day and thought about some great teaching opportunities that this particular book presents.

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This book is about a little girl, Patricia, that is absolutely terrified of thunderstorms. Her grandmother helps her overcome her fear by teaching her how to make her own thunder cake.

This book would work well for a few different things. In the primary grades I would recommend using this book to review story elements; the story fits in nicely to a simple plot diagram and students will be able to easily identify the problem and solution. For primary students, this story lends itself well to some visualizing work. This book (and really, any book by Patricia Polacco) is filled with descriptive language. As your reading, I would have students sketch pictures of what they’re visualizing in their mind: setting, characters, and more.

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Sequencing is also another important reading skill that you could teach using this book as a mentor text. With teacher support, students can sequence the events in 1st and 2nd grade. I’d say students in 3rd and 4th grade could definitely do the sequencing as an independent activity.

In the book, the grandma teaches Patricia how to count in between the lightning and thunder to find out how far away it is. With each time she counts, Patricia does something brave without even realizing it. When the story is over, you can have students work together to try to put all ten events in order. See if they can do it without the story first, and then provide the book for them to use as a guide.

I would give students a simple guide to complete as they work on putting the events in order. See my example in the picture above.

For the intermediate students, I would use this book to teach about character development and to introduce some great new vocabulary words. There’s also some rich figurative language throughout this whole book: onomatopoeia, metaphors, hyperboles, and more. Students would have a blast looking through to see how many different types they would be able to find.

Patricia goes through some pretty big changes throughout this story. I would model how to identify those changes together with the class and then allow them to have conversations with each other around why and how she changes.

Seriously though, this book is beautifully written and I’m sure you’re all able to find even more teaching opportunities throughout. Just as you would with any picture book, the first time students hear this book, it should be read straight through. Before you even attempt to do any teaching, the first exposure should just be for enjoyment and understanding. Then, dive in for additional readings to begin to focus on different skills!



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