Review of “The Story of Lightning and Thunder”

Bryan, Ashley. The Story of Lightning and Thunder. Maxell Macmillan. 1993. ISBN: 0689318367

This is a retelling of an African folk tale about how Lighting and Thunder ended up in the sky. The story begins by explaining that a long time ago Thunder and Lightning did not live in the sky. The people from town and the country could chat or pat or wave to Ma Sheep Thunder and Son Ram Lightning. When the farmer needed rain they just went up into the mountain and called on their friend, Rain, to help them. However, Son Ram Lightning wanted to show off to the King and they were sent to live outside of town. Later Son Ram Lightning ate some straw hats made by his mother’s friend and the King made them move beyond the village to the center of the forest. When Son Ram Lightning’s idea to get Ox from eating up the vegetables, he created sparks that led to a fire in the field. The King heard the people’s cry and sent the dangerous Thunder and Lightning to live beyond the mountain, into the sky.

Bryan’s belief is that “It is important to affirm our ancestry, to learn about our people while learning about others” (Vardell 89). Culture is an important subject for folktales and legends. It is essential that the images go along with the story and make them believable for children. Since these folktales are from one person, in a oral tradition, using their own authorial interpretation, we trust the author and his illustrations – he is the expert. I think Bryan does a wonderful job is showing us the story as well as telling it. However, I must say I found this book hard to read for a children’s book. I notice that it is shelves as “Juvenile” rather than “Easy” so it would be for older children. Still, it’s quite wordy and I’m sure it is being told in the style of the original folktale. Since the supernatural element of Lightning and Thunder being a sheep and a ram would very well be very obscure for a young reader to grasp for starters, then the story being in paragraph form with a lot of detail, I don’t know how well this book would be received by children at my library. It seems like it would be more for a one on one reader type of situation. I think it would be the kind of book a parent could help a child through rather than doing the typical sing-songs thematic books of group Storytime.

Booklist (September 15, 1993) reviewed this book by stating, “Bryan’s swirling watercolors depict a bright African terrain peopled with decorative, colorful characters. The text has music and style and moves along quickly, thanks to the humor inherent in the exploits of the rambunctious ram. Specific source notes are included. This is a solid title for reading aloud that will appeal to a wide age range.” Other book reviews say the age range is from 4-8. I’m still not sure that 4 would even be old enough to grasp the concept of the book but ages 7 and 8 would be able to understand it I think.

One of the books that Amazon suggests as a similar book is The Story of the Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale. If a teacher were going to introduce multi-cultural folktales into their curriculum, this book would be something comparable. This book is recommended by School Library Journal and has about the same number of pages as well as a similar theme of inanimate objects being depicted as animals. Since teachers so often use Greek Myths with their older students, I think introducing them to other myths early on will give them a more varied background in legends and storytelling.

Vardell, Sylvia M. Children’s Literature in Action. Libraries Unlimited. Westport, CT. 2008

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