Cover image for Silent thunder : a Civil War story
Silent thunder : a Civil War story
Pinkney, Andrea Davis.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Jump At The Sun/Hyperion Books for Children, [1999]

Physical Description:
218 pages : map ; 22 cm
In 1862 eleven-year-old Summer and her thirteen-year-old brother Rosco take turns describing how life on the quiet Virginia plantation where they are slaves is affected by the Civil War.
Reading Level:
880 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 5.4 7.0 36396.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.8 12 Quiz: 20234 Guided reading level: NR.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Eleven-year-old Summer and her older brother Rosco each have a "silent thunder, " a desire that rumbles deep within them, refusing to be ignored. Summer longs to learn to read. Rosco is burning to fight for his Country and his freedom. But Rosco and Summer are slaves on Gideon Parnell's plantation in the year 1862, and for slaves, these desires are illegal and dangerous.Despite the danger and their mama's terrible fear of being sold off, Summer and Rosco are determined to fulfill their dreams. In stolen moments, Rosco teaches Summer all he has learned from eavesdropping on young master Lowell's lessons. In the meantime, Rosco secretly plans his own escape to the North, to join the Union forces. But when Gideon Parnell unexpectedly falls ill and the plantation is taken over by Parnell's cruel brother-in-law, Rosco's decision becomes more complicated. How can he leave his family now? And Summer, struggling to understand her mama's perplexing actions, discovers that Mama has a silent thunder of her own -- and secrets Summer never dreamed of.Through the voices of Rosco and Summer, this wrenching yet hopeful novel celebrates the triu

Author Notes

Andrea Davis Pinkney has written several acclaimed books for middle grade readers, including the novels Bird in a Box, a Today Show Al Roker Book Club pick, and With the Might of Angels , a book in the Dear America series. She is also the author of the nonfiction book Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters , a Coretta Scott King Author Honor winner. Andrea's many picture books include Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down , a New York Times best-seller and a Jane Addams Honor Book, which was illustrated by her husband, Brian Pinkney. She and her family live in Brooklyn, New York.

Brian Pinkney ( has frequently collaborated with his wife, Andrea Davis Pinkney. Some of their other books include, Sojourner Truth's Step-Stomp Stride , Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation , and Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra , for which Brian was awarded a Caldecott Honor. Brian was also a Caldecott Honoree for The Faithful Friend by Robert D. San Souci , and he won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for In the Time of the Drums by Kim L.Siegelson.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5^-8. What was it like to be a child under slavery at the start of the Civil War? In alternating narratives, Summer, 11, and her older brother, Rosco, tell of life on a Virginia plantation in 1862. Their voices sound the same, but their stories reveal a tangle of dangerous secrets. Rosco has broken the law and learned to read; now he's trying to teach his sister; the first letter she recognizes is the brand on her own body. Another young slave is urging Rosco to run away with him on the Underground Railroad and enlist in the Union army. Who is the white man who will help them escape? Why is Mama so angry with Summer? Who is their father? Without exploitation, the historical novel reveals the brutal oppression of slavery--the physical violence, the arduous labor, the threat of loved ones separated at auction. But the individual characters, both black and white, are drawn with complexity as the compelling story reveals the intricate connections between them. --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Children's fiction about slavery typically involves young protagonists struggling with injustice, yearning to read and risking their lives for freedom; Pinkney reinvigorates this familiar framework by infusing her work with a more personal, equally hard-hitting theme. The "silent thunder" of the title refers to the urgent need for enslaved children (and adults) to suppress their own desires and thoughts. As an adult slave warns 11-year-old Summer, "Anything that makes you feel good has gotta stay cooped up, like a toad wriggling inside a croaker sack, else it can be taken away." Yet Summer is practically bursting to chat about everything, wondering who her daddy is, why her mother is so moody, why she has to beat rugs, why she can't have a china-head doll. Her older brother, Rosco, the "body servant" of young Master Lowell, has learned to read from eavesdropping on Lowell's lessons; he teaches Summer to read, too, and when she can't keep this dangerous accomplishment to herself, he makes her a doll in whom she can safely confide. Rosco, meanwhile, grapples with his own secrets, namely his knowledge of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. While Pinkney bows to a few stereotypes, generally her portraits are unusually well nuanced. As Summer and Rosco alternate as narrators, their feelings flow off the page to envelop the reader. Ages 9-12. (Sept.) FYI: Pinkney, the author of Raven in a Dove House; Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra; and several other works for children, heads the Jump at the Sun imprint. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Gr 5-9-Set in Virginia in 1862, this powerful book tells the story of Rosco, 13, and Summer, 11, siblings who have grown up in slavery on the Parnell Plantation. As the story opens, Summer is making her annual visit to Master Gideon for his birthday inspection of her. She does not know that he is, in fact, her father, and that this visit is his "small, secret way of being your pa," as her mother later confides. Rosco has a bigger secret: he has taught himself to read, and is now teaching his sister. In alternating chapters, the children tell about life on the plantation, rumors of impending freedom, and of Rosco's desperate dream of escape. When Gideon is felled by a stroke, the boy seizes his opportunity and escapes along the Underground Railroad. This is an excellent, well-written historical novel, with two compelling narrators. Their modified dialect is easy to understand and helps readers to empathize with them. By putting a human face on this complex subject, Pinkney helps children to understand what it was like to suffer under slavery.-Elizabeth M. Reardon, McCallie School, Chattanooga, TN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.