Supporting Children to Weather Storms with Hope and Resilience
I Am the Storm
Written by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple
Art by Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell
Rise Books, an Imprint of Penguin Random House, 2021
Wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and blizzards have become an increasingly more regular part of our lives. In response to the greater frequency of extreme weather, beloved author Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, have crafted a luminous picturebook that comforts as well as informs young readers about these four weather emergencies. Each scene begins by acknowledging the power of storms, often using figurative language, followed by a brief explanation of what families can do to feel safe and empowered, such as: “When the wind howled and blew, loud as a train, we had a party in the basement with Grandma, reading books and playing games with the flashlight.” Throughout the book, children are reassured that we can weather storms safely and we can rebuild what may have been lost. This is seen most profoundly in scenes where families are picking up branches, fixing fences, shoveling walkways, and bringing flowers to a neighbor. Yolen and Stemple acknowledge the big emotions that are natural to have in a storm, but what resonates most in the text are not the feelings of fright children may experience, but the resilience, creativity, and hope that children in the book find in each storm. This is seen across each weather emergency such as when a child dances and twirls like the wind after a tornado and when children turn their cousins’ bunk bed into imaginary boats high above the waves after fleeing a hurricane. Textured illustrations by Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell enhance each storm scene with hues of green, blue, orange, and brown that mirror the natural environment of each scene. As our children encounter more frequently occurring traumatic storms, this book reminds them that storms are powerful, but so are they. Back matter explains each of the four weather emergencies and what children can expect when they occur. Read aloud I Am the Storm well in advance of the next storm to ease children’s anxieties and help them feel prepared and empowered for whatever storms they may endure.
The Longest Storm
Written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
“A storm came to our town. It was unlike any storm we’d ever seen. No one knew how long it would last.” Characteristic of his previous work, Dan Yaccarino’s The Longest Storm uses spare text and bold illustrations to convey the range of emotions a single-father family experiences during a strange storm. With too much time and the feeling of too little to do, the children try to pass the time: by washing the dog (making a big puddle in the process), eating food out of the fridge, cutting their own hair, and fighting over tablets. Things go from strange to bad to worse. The family runs out of nice things to say and for a while everyone just wants to be alone. Several pages then reveal a big flash, darkness, and the family gathering together in bed by candlelight. The next day, while the storm remains, the family has changed as seen by the smile on the father’s face while cooking eggs and the children’s joy while playing handheld instruments, watching a movie with popcorn, and playing a board game. Written in response to his own family’s experiences with the COVID-19 lockdown, The Longest Storm eloquently acknowledges the family challenges we all endured through the most restrictive days of the pandemic while also serving as a comforting text for the storms that are yet to come. Illustrations use a palette of deep blues and bright yellow to create bold contrasts throughout the book that mirror the contrasting feelings the characters experience. Full of tension, honesty, and beauty, The Longest Storm is a mesmerizing picturebook full of read-aloud possibilities that acknowledges the struggle and hope that any storm can bring.
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classrooms
Note to our Readers: These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive. Choose one. Choose more. It’s up to you. Some ideas are bigger and will take a number of days to complete. Some are shorter. You can also choose to complete one part of a teaching idea, but not the whole thing. It’s up to you!
Storm Preparedness: Feeling Safe and Loved. Both of these books offer children reassuring messages that they may encounter difficult, even scary storms, but that there are ways to be prepared for the next storm by focusing on safety and love. Have students share their thoughts about what makes them feel safe and loved during a storm. Then, invite students to linger on each page to notice how the characters were prepared for the storm (or not). How do the pages offer possibilities for how they could prepare for a future storm such as by gathering books to read aloud with family members, having flashlights ready, or having cards handy for playing games. With older students, pair these books with novel-in-verse The One Thing You’d Save by Linda Sue Park to support students to think about the hypothetical situation of having to decide what things they would save in a storm situation. Send home a letter to families informing them of these read-aloud titles and how you are using them in the classroom to help students feel reassured, safe, and loved in preparation for the next storm whenever it may come. Invite them to have a discussion at home about storms, how to be prepared, and what we can do to help everyone at home and in the neighborhood.
Growing Knowledge about Storms: What Do I Know? What Do I Wonder? Our students have various life experiences with storms depending on where they have lived. Gather a variety of nonfiction and fiction texts (see Further Investigations below) to grow student knowledge about extreme weather, to pique student interest, to help them develop questions, to find answers, and to feel safe and secure in advance of the next storm. In addition to print texts, consider sharing time-lapse videos of storms such as NASA’s satellite video of Hurricane Harvey. Please be mindful that some students may find certain videos of storms retraumatizing if they have survived extreme storms. It’s important to be aware of your students’ past experiences with storms. After reading and viewing storm-related texts, invite students to engage in a collaborative KWL chart. What do students know about storms, what do they wonder about storms, and what do they learn by reading and viewing various knowledge-building texts?
Weather Clubs. Consider having students engage in small groups based on their interest in one of the four weather emergencies featured in I Am the Storm: forest fires, hurricanes, tornados, and blizzards. Using a variety of texts (see Further Explorations below), have students engage in collaborative research to learn more about these types of extreme weather and what we can do to feel prepared. Have groups create physical displays or multimedia presentations with the goal of both informing and reassuring.
Ready Set Draw!: Drawing Emotions. View Dan Yaccarino’s Ready. Set. Draw! episode on KidLitTV which focuses on drawing characters’ faces to convey emotions just like he does in The Longest Storm. Pause the video at select moments to have students share the emotions his illustrations show. The video is organized like a tutorial so either invite students to follow along and draw the faces as Yaccarino draws them or watch the video and then invite students to draw faces based on Yaccarino’s techniques. Create an emotions anchor chart using student drawings based on Yaccarino’s techniques that can help students name the various emotions they feel throughout the school year. Remind students they can use these techniques in their illustrations for all of their artwork in the future.
Perspective-Taking with Speech and Thought Bubbles. Both of these books offer opportunities for students to engage in perspective-taking by imagining the thoughts and dialogue of characters across the pages. Invite students to choose a two-page spread from either book and for them to use sticky notes to create dialogue for speech bubbles or the internal thinking of characters. Draw students’ attention to the facial expressions of the characters to help them infer what the characters might have been thinking, feeling, or saying to one another given the range of emotions displayed through the illustrations in combination with the print. Challenge students to imagine the perspectives of both the children and the adults in the pages.
Close Reading: Color for Effect. Support students to discuss how the illustrators of both texts use color to convey the storms within each text. What pages do students find themselves drawn to the illustrations the most? In what ways does color play a role in those pages to depict the storm itself, the setting, or the emotional aspects of living through a storm? Have students create their own illustrations where they think about color for effect. They might even want to try out some of the specific techniques the illustrators use, such as Yaccarino’s use of shades of blue in contrast to bright yellow or the way the Howdeshells create texture and use natural colors in their artwork.
Using Movement and Drama to Retell. Invite students to use movement and drama to retell the events of these books. If using I Am the Storm, have students work in small groups to reenact one of the four storm scenes. Students can play the parts of the characters or the storm itself using movement and sounds to represent the ferocity of the storm. If using The Longest Storm have students work in small groups to retell the beginning, middle, and end of the storm with a focus on the challenges, struggles, and moments of hope. Following group performances, have students share what they noticed were similarities and differences in their interpretations of the events of the books. Support students to reflect on the ways this experience can enhance their understanding of events in future stories.
Introduction to Symbolism. While the term symbolism is academically advanced for an audience of young readers, both I Am the Storm and The Longest Storm can be read both literally and metaphorically. Literally: What are the storms we encounter that are weather emergencies? Metaphorically: In what ways has living through the pandemic been similar to living through a storm? What are the storms that live inside us? What does “I am the storm” mean? Invite students to write their own I am statements using Yolen’s and Stemple’s as a guide with accompanying artwork to show how powerful they can be–just like a storm.
Jane Yolen’s Site
Heidi Stemple’s Site
Dan Yaccarino’s Site
KidLitTV, Ready Set Draw! Dan Yaccarino, The Longest Storm
I Am the Storm Book Trailer, Heidi Stemple YouTube Channel
The History Channel: Natural Disasters and Environment
NASA Satellite Video: Hurricane Harvey from Space
Storm Chasing Videos
Disasters: National Child Traumatic Stress Network
American Psychological Association: Tornadoes, Hurricanes, and Children
Society for Research in Child Development, Understanding the Impact of Natural Disasters on Children
Great Schools: After the Storm: Natural Fears or Signs of Trauma?
Ashman, L. (2020). When the storm comes. New York, NY: Nancy Paulsen Books.
Claire, C. (2017). Shelter. Toronto, Canada: Kids Can Press.
Macken, J.E. (2010). Waiting out the storm. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Miyakoski, A. (2016). The storm. Toronto, Canada: Kids Can Press.
National Geographic Readers. (2009). Storms. Washington, DC: National Geographic Kids.
Park, L.S. (2021). The one thing you’d save. Boston, MA: HMH.
Polacco, P. (1997). Thundercake. New York, NY: Puffin Books.
Simon, S. (2002). Super storms. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.
Thomas, R. (2005). Eye of the storm: A book about hurricanes. Bloomington, MN: Picture Window Books.
Usher, S. (2018). Storm. Dorking, UK: Templar Publishing.
Viau, N. (2013). Storm song. New York, NY: Two Lions.
Zolotow, C. (1989). The storm book. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
About Katie Cunningham
Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.
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