cover image THUNDER ROSE


Jerdine Nolen, , illus. by Kadir Nelson. . Harcourt/Silver Whistle, $16 (30pp) ISBN 978-0-15-216472-0

Coming into the world one stormy night, Thunder Rose, heroine of this original tall tale, is the first child "born free and easy" to her African-American parents, who (an author's note implies) have transplanted themselves from slavery in the South to settle the frontiers of the Old West. Rose demonstrates extraordinary talents even as a newborn: "She took hold of that lightning, rolled it into a ball, and set it above her shoulder, while the thunder echoed out over the other." She turns out to have an aptitude for bending wire and scrap metal; among other developments in this episodic narrative, Rose constructs a thunderbolt from scrap iron and invents barbed wire. Nolen's (Big Jabe , also illustrated by Nelson) kicky regional dialect is the high point here ("Right outside of Caldwell, that irascible, full-of-outrage-and-ire outlaw Jesse Baines and his gang of desperadoes tried to rustle that herd away from Rose.... [She] lassoed those hot-tempered hooligans up good and tight"). Unfortunately, her packed plot slows the rhythms of her fun writing style. Even for the tall tale genre, there is too much going on, and a message at the end, about the thunder in Rose's heart and what happens when she calls forth the music that resides there, makes for a rambling denouement. Throughout, Nelson's oil, watercolor and pencil compositions endow Rose's larger-than-life feats with verve. Notes of humor, warmth and rustic detail vie for attention in his bright-blue, big-sky scenes. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)