Storm in the Night
Publisher: Harpercollins, Reprint Edition, 1990
Format: Picture book
Interest Level: Grades 1-3. Probably too intense for Preschool Children
Review by Terry Northcutt, Ph.D.
Do you remember being nine or ten and knowing that your parents and grandparents had once been small children of nine or ten just like you? Do you remember how hard it was to imagine them playing, going to school, and being worried, or perhaps even afraid of the things you were afraid of at that age? If you do, then you will enjoy the musings of Thomas about his grandfather in Mary Stolz’s picture book Storm in the Night. You will also enjoy the story the grandfather tells which enables Thomas to admit his fears.
Thomas’s musings begin when a thunderstorm knocks out the power, leaving him and his grandfather in the dark. Throughout the story, Stolz renders the small sensory details of the storm in lyrical prose such as in the opening passage:
“Storm in the night. Thunder like mountains blowing up. Lightning licking the navy-blue sky. Rain streaming down the windows, babbling in the downspouts.” Pat Cumming’s illustrations in deep hues of purple, blue, brown, black, and green intensify the atmosphere of a fierce storm outside and pervasive darkness inside. Listening and studying the illustrations, you find yourself thinking, Yes, that is exactly how it is in the dark during a storm when the power goes out.
Unfolding against this vivid stormy night background is the conversation of Grandfather and Thomas. A conversation in which Stolz captures the natural cadence of speech and the realistic interplay between child and adult:
“Grandfather,” said Thomas, “were there automobiles when you were a boy?”
“Were there automobiles!” Grandfather shouted. “How old do you think I am?”
“Next thing, you’ll be asking if there was electricity when I was your age.”
“Oh, Grandfather!” said Thomas, laughing. After a while he said, “Was there?”
“Let’s go out on the porch,” said Grandfather. “There’s too much silliness in here.”
In these questions Thomas is really asking his grandfather what it was like when he was a boy; and what he was like as a boy; and mostly, was he like Thomas when he was a boy. He unsuccessfully tries to imagine his big, bearded grandfather with a voice like a tuba being as short as him and having a smooth chin, and a penny whistle voice like him. As the evening progresses, his grandfather tells a story that is even harder for Thomas to imagine.
The story is about him and his dog, Melvin, when he was about Thomas’s age. It is a story in which he was not a hero. A story in which he was so afraid during a storm that he hid under his bed forgetting that his dog who was also afraid of storms was outside in the storm alone. A story that shows that fear can consume a person causing them to forget everything but their fear.
Grandfather does eventually remember his dog. But even then he was slow to wiggle out from under the bed. And what is Thomas’s reaction to the story? Wonder that his grandfather could ever have been so afraid. Admiration for his grandfather “for telling a truth like that.” And finally a tentative admission of his own fear.
Throughout the evening with its explosive thunder, its slashing wind, and its bolts of lightning that eventually rip a branch off a beech tree, Thomas has insisted that not only is he not afraid of thunder like Melvin and his cat Ringo, he isn’t afraid of anything. But after hearing his grandfather’s story, Thomas says, “I think that maybe if you hadn’t been here, and Ringo hadn’t been here, and I was all alone in the house and there was a storm and the lights went out and didn’t come on again for a long time, like this…I think maybe then I would be a little bit afraid.” And Grandfather responds, “Perfectly natural.”
This is a story to enjoy for the rich lyrical prose and realistic characters, but it is also one that will stir memories of parents and grandparents, so that they can share their own stories about the dark and thunderstorms and fear.