Zap! Clap! Boom! The Story of a Thunderstorm – written by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Elly MacKay
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2023
The thunderstorm in Zap! Clap! Boom! is a little bit threatening and also exciting. The preamble to the storm is quiet and the aftermath is peaceful. Laura Purdie Salas and Elly MacKay capture the contradictory parts of this weather experience for children in a poetic narrative with fanciful pictures, leaving the scientific explanation for an accessible afterword. The book is unusual in its presentation of both the beauty and the menace of a summer storm, immersing children in its representation of their feelings without qualifiers.
The text is economically presented, with each word having maximum impact. The beginnings of the storm are only “a rising cloud,/a towering plume.” Then the sky explodes and the world feels its impact: “The world groans slowly,/shivers,/creaks.” “A crackling, grumbling/sound of doom” precedes the sound effects capture in the title, and then the storm has passed. The combination of words and pictures gives the story a theatrical presentation, with layered paper and digital elements that emphasize the drama of this ordinary event.
Every page is carefully composed. Three children play against a pale blue sky, their game of kicking a ball continuing on to the next page, and the bright red ball reappearing in subsequent scenes. A family of goats prances across the sky, evoking a Chagall painting. They return to earth, finding shelter in a shed, but later take flight again. The scale of people to their environment also changes, with the children sometimes rendered quite small in relation to nature, and on other pages taking center stage. Deep colors are the setting when the storm is intense, as when the children, viewed from a brown-framed window, hover together against the dark blue of the sky and the forest green of branches unsettled by the storm.
After the storm ends, the children, the goats, and the bright red ball return to unencumbered enjoyment of the sunny day. A parable of recovery and peace is set within a realistic depiction of a storm and its aftermath. There is even the sense of a lasting benefit, as “Diamond drops/dress trees and vines./Storm is over.” At least for the moment, that’s true. The explanatory afterword, “The Science Behind Storms,” offers further information and resources, as well as the message that access to knowledge complements the poetic lens of the book.