Saving Thunder the Great

Children’s book launched in support of the SPCA

By Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Contributor

Mama held her breath as flames leapt tree to tree…I have to get Thunder out of here. I have to. Jackson plays with him…

As she was evacuating on May 3, Julie Lodge’s thoughts were with her son Jackson, who was in Newfoundland. And, with his gerbil, Thunder the Great – her responsibility. Alongside the thoughts were challenges of running out of gas, and traffic gridlocks, yet, she still went out of her way to give rides to strangers. All of this and more has been captured by the Calgary-based author Leanne Shirtliffe in her latest book Saving Thunder the Great – the true story of a gerbil’s rescue from the Fort McMurray wildfire. Brilliantly illustrated by Georgia Graham, also from Calgary, the book was launched on November 5 at Coles bookstore, located in the Peter Pond Mall.

Both Julie and her son Jackson, signed copies for a steady line-up of people, who were eager to get a slice of history, while supporting the SPCA – which benefited from 20 per cent of all book sales.

“It’s very exciting to be in a book. And, on top of that money is going to the SPCA. I love animals, and have two cats in Newfoundland, my dog, and three horses,” shared Jackson, 11.

Julie, who drove all the way to British Columbia with Thunder the Great after learning gerbils are on the no-fly list, recalled the book’s journey.

“I had taken a picture of the lady with the horses by the hospital when I was gridlocked in traffic, and posted it online. That sparked a few interviews, and I talked about my son’s gerbil. Then Boulder Publications contacted me for a children’s book. At first, I thought the whole idea was crazy. But, then they said it’ll help children relate to what Thunder, and they had gone through. Now that I see it in print, it makes sense. I’m surprised by the amazing turnout at the book signing today,” explained Lodge, who hails from Newfoundland, but has been a local resident for over six years.

And, even though Thunder the Great has passed away, his story “touches every heart,” noted Jackie Marsh, General Manager, Coles/Indigo.

“We all went through the same thing as the gerbil and Julie. I can very much relate as I live in South Abasand. I’m still waiting to get home, which is standing, but needs a lot of remediation.”

“At Coles, we love our community and our customers, so it’s important for us to support our community. We’ve sold over 200 copies in the last two-and-a-half weeks. People are buying for their kids, and grandkids, and making sure our story is not forgotten,” added Marsh.

Beverly Danson was one of those individuals who bought five copies, and brought two friends to the book signing event, each of whom bought five books.

“I told all of my friends about the book signing. Everyone has similar stories. We all went north, and then south. I got a few copies for my grandkids. I think the illustrations are amazing. I have three grandchildren and a nephew, who went through the evacuation, so looking at this from a child’s perspective hits home. Plus, we want to support anything local and related to the fire, as well as the SPCA – I have a lab, and my grandson has a gerbil,” noted Danson, who has been in Fort McMurray for 33 years.

Tara Clarke, Executive Director, Fort McMurray SPCA, said “proceeds from book sales will support the ongoing efforts by the FMSPCA to support regional pet owners through our Pet Food Bank Program and Fee Free Surrender Services.”

For Leanne Shirtliffe, the book’s author, “the process for writing this children’s book was very different.”

“I was contacted by Boulder Publishing who wanted to know if I thought there was a picture book in the story of Thunder the Great’s rescue. As soon as I talked to Julie Lodge, I knew there was definitely a story,” she said in an email interview from Calgary.

Shirtliffe also added an author’s note about Fort McMurray’s many venues cited in the book paying an homage to the community.

“I first heard of the fire on CBC driving home from a day of teaching. On Tuesday, I spent all evening glued to the coverage. It took me two pretty intense months to write and revise this story (and a lot of texts to Julie to clarify details and feelings at various stages). I felt this was an important story to tell,” she continued.

“Too often, children don’t have a way to tell their stories, and their stories matter. A gerbil (not to mention one named Thunder the Great—such a heroic name) is a way to tell children that their stories are important. I also wanted to show the power of family and community, an important aspect of the Fort McMurray experience. I am so pleased at the community’s positive response to Saving Thunder the Great,” Shirtliffe added.

– Connect Weekly –