The Promise of Calm After the Storm
January 8, 2021 § 2 Comments
In the wake of Wednesday’s egregious attack on the US Capitol, I decided to postpone the post I’d initially planned for this week (cute polar bears can wait) and talk instead about a new picture book brimming with reassurance. Technically, it’s about weathering a literal storm—a tornado, a blizzard, a hurricane, and a wildfire—but its message feels deeply relevant to the place of uncertainty and fear in which we increasingly find ourselves: that in times of crises, we pull through with the help of family and community, with hope and heart and hard work. That Nature is powerful, but so are we. That, following every storm, there is always a return to calm.
Compared to most families, we spend a disproportionate amount of time
obsessing about discussing the weather, owing to a fear of storms my eldest has had since he was two and a half and watched a microburst uproot a tree and send it spiraling down onto a power line, where it ignited. Previously, I’ve blogged about You’re Safe With Me, an animal-themed, folktale-like story offering a mother’s embrace as a panacea for stormy winds. Today’s book is more literal and larger in scope, showcasing scenarios that will feel familiar to children growing up at a time when weather events are larger, louder, and more frequent. It is about fear, but it’s also about a myriad of possibilities—some of them surprisingly wonderful—that can accompany that fear and pave the way for resilience.
Co-authored by mother-daughter team, Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, with glorious spreads by husband-and-wife team, Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell, I am the Storm (Ages 3-7) is about the moments when Nature rears its ugly head and threatens to overpower us—and what happens next. With equal parts candor and lyricism, four different children describe their family’s response to an incidence of extreme weather and the unexpected ways they find empowerment.
The book opens with a funnel cloud towering black and purple over a smattering of small houses. The sense of scale will quickly resonate with readers, as will the words: “When the wind howled and blew,/ loud as a train…”
But a page turn reveals instead a cozy scene: “…we had a party in the basement with Grandma, reading books and playing games with the flashlight.” I’m reminded of the countless times our family has hunkered down, the kids dragging every stuffed animal into the basement and losing themselves for precious minutes in the distraction of games and jokes and an unanticipated break from routine.
The next spread speaks of repair. I could paraphrase, but that’s seems a crime where the great Jane Yolen is concerned: “When the wind stops whirling, as tornadoes always do, we picked up branches and fixed the fence. I danced round and round our front yard, howling and blowing like the wind.”
The next event is a blizzard—“When the ice and snow fell,/ sparkling like fairy dust on the windows,/ and all the lights went out”—where a different family makes the best of a power outage by wearing their winter hats inside and cooking hot dogs over a fireplace. When the ice and snow stop falling (“as blizzards always do”), the family shovels their neighbor’s sidewalk and builds a snowman.
During a forest fire, a family leaves to camp by a lake, returning home “when the forests cooled,/ as wildfires always do” to don masks, sweep ashes, and wash windows alongside neighbors. The air is still hot, but they cool down with bowls of ice cream, and a child spreads cheer by passing out bundles of wildflowers he picked while camping.
The hurricane seems to present the greatest risk, and a boy reveals his fear, even after this family has left their home by the water to shelter at his cousins’ home, far from the ocean but not far enough to ignore the driving rain and strong winds. But here, too, the boy returns home with his family to assess, repair, and clean up minor damage and greet neighbors doing the same.
And this leads to the final few spreads, which speak to universal resilience. A girl stands atop a fallen tree, hands on hips, to declare, “Nature is strong and powerful./ But I am strong and powerful, too.” A page turn reveals a glimpse of all four children, each in a pose reminiscent of the way they found play in the toughest, scariest of times. “I am loud like the tornado. I am wild like the blizzard. I am hot like the fire. I am fierce like the hurricane. I am the storm.”
None of these children has suffered terribly. None have lost homes or loved ones. Certainly, in life, there are examples where that is not the case, where tragedy leaves devastation in its wake. But this book suggests that the children in its pages are the norm, that most of us come out OK on the other side. That things will return, if not exactly to normal, then to calm. Because “when the storm passes,/ as it always does,/ I am the calm, too.”
In the case of Wednesday’s events, most of us hope business will not return to normal. We’ve seen flagrant evidence that the white supremacy long nurtured in our country continues to rise up and inflict terrible pain. The work—yes, even for our children—will be long and hard. But I am the Storm sends a clear message to our children, not only that hard times will pass, but that they themselves can weather hard things. Like a storm, they can rise up, can travel great distances, can connect with people near and far. Like a storm, they can create, can shake things up, can spin and play and find beauty and love where there was previously only fear. Like a storm, they can harbor moments of stillness–moments in which to heal, to contemplate, and to regroup for what lies ahead.
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