The wordless picture book Thunderstorm covers a period of just six hours. All the events take place during a single afternoon when a fierce storm suddenly overtakes an American farm and wreaks havoc.
According to the book’s prelims, the illustrations ‘were produced from copperplate etchings that were first hand printed and then hand colored using watercolor paints’. The pictures are highly detailed and are absolutely packed with information about the course of a mid-western storm.
In addition the pages of the book work as a horizontal ‘scroll’. This means the side edges are full-bleed, while the top and bottom edges have borders. A timeline runs below the bottom border.
At the beginning of the storm we see angry black clouds coming in from the left, while a family hurriedly drives home its trailer of hay to store in a dry barn.
In addition to the people we see numerous birds and animals seeking shelter as the storm gathers pace. Here Geisert uses a special cut-away technique, so we can observe the animals curling up safely in their nests, tree homes or underground burrows.
Even the indoor areas of the farm are affected by the weather, with dripping rain being caught in saucepans and buckets, and splashes dropping down from the ceiling. The washing has also been brought indoors and hung on temporary lines to dry.
The family sit out the crisis while outside their flower baskets swing in the wind and the skies become ever darker. In one dramatic scene near the end of the book a wild wind sweeps everything before it – and roofs, doors, trees and fences end up flying through the air. It is a truly terrifying picture and puts the reader right at the centre of the action.
Fortunately the storm eventually moves away and peace returns to the landscape. The family head outside to take stock, and the full extent of the damage to land and property can be seen clearly. Trees have been toppled, roof tiles and even walls have been torn away and barns have collapsed. Luckily, though, a large team of people is ready to restore order by quickly mending the broken buildings and tending to the animals.
The final scene is one of calm, with just a hint of dark grey cloud blowing away to the right of the image.
This is an unusual but fascinating subject for a picturebook. It is beautifully executed by the award-winning author Arthur Geisert, who originally trained as a sculptor. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and The Horn Book, as well as being exhibited in various galleries. Geisert has also illustrated other wordless books, including one called Ice (2010), which was selected as a Best Illustrated Book of the Year by The New York Times Book Review.