Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms

4.6 3
by Katherine Rundell, Melissa Castrillón

View All Available Formats & Editions

Even a life on the untamed plains of Africa can’t prepare Wilhelmina for the wilds of an English boarding school in this “gripping, magical, and heartwarming tale of resilience, friendship, and hope” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Wilhelmina Silver’s world is golden. Living half-wild on an African farm with her horse, her…  See more details below


Even a life on the untamed plains of Africa can’t prepare Wilhelmina for the wilds of an English boarding school in this “gripping, magical, and heartwarming tale of resilience, friendship, and hope” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Wilhelmina Silver’s world is golden. Living half-wild on an African farm with her horse, her monkey, and her best friend, every day is beautiful. But when her home is sold and Will is sent away to boarding school in England, the world becomes impossibly difficult. Lions and hyenas are nothing compared to packs of vicious schoolgirls. Where can a girl run to in London? And will she have the courage to survive?

From the author of Rooftoppers, which Booklist called “a glorious adventure,” comes an utterly beautiful story that’s “a treasure of a book” (VOYA).

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
★ 10/01/2014
Gr 4–6—Twelve-year-old Wilhelmina Silver—aka Will, Wildcat, Madman, Cartwheel—has what she considers to be an idyllic life. Since her mother's death when she was five, she has been "raised" on a remote farm in Zimbabwe by her father, the farm foreman. She has been free to explore and run like the wind; ride bareback on her horse, Shumba; and has a pet monkey to keep her company. She is at home in the bush and sleeps in trees, if necessary, and routinely steals fruit and sets fires with her best friend Simon and the rest of the farm boys. She's a good reader and keen observer, but her formal education has been sketchy at best. The things she knows to be true are not easily quantified or necessarily valued. When her father dies, she is left in the care of Captain Browne, the kindly farm owner, and his scheming and manipulative new wife. When it is announced that the farm is to be sold and Will is to be sent to a private school in England, the girl's golden world is shattered. Leaving behind all that she has known and loves and adjusting to a cold, inhospitable climate is just part of her challenge. She has always been a quick study and a fierce competitor and there is no place for her to shine in the snooty, highly regimented school. Driven by desperation and the girls' cruelty, Will runs away and has to work out for herself what is real, valuable, and true. Rundell's vivid and compelling prose brings both worlds to life on a visceral level and propels her characters forward. Readers will be engaged by Will's voice (and her colorful linguistic twists), ache for her through her sorrow and loss, and celebrate her newly sparked confidence and resolve. Warning: there will be cartwheels!—Luann Toth, School Library Journal
Publishers Weekly
★ 05/19/2014
Twelve-year-old Wilhelmina “Will” Silver loves her “wildcat life” on a farm “in the hottest corner of Zimbabwe” where she rides horses, trains monkeys, and plays with her friend Simon. Disapproving neighbors consider her “a different species,” but her widowed father thinks her “irrefutably the most beautiful creature living.” His untimely death shatters Will’s world, and results in her being sent to an English boarding school. Will’s father’s dying words, “Courage, chook, ja?” sustain her in a mystifying new environment for which she has no preparation or advocate, where mocking classmates call her savage. Employing a close third-person narrative, Rundell (Rooftoppers) deftly conveys the terror that impels Will to escape into the streets of London, which she navigates with ingenuity and survival skills honed in Africa. Lyrical prose, Zimbabwean dialect, and evocative dialogue express Will’s internal and external worlds; after a street fight, “her heart was rattling around like a cutlery drawer in an earthquake. She spoke to an imaginary Simon. ‘Sha, hey?’ ” A gripping, magical, and heartwarming tale of resilience, friendship, and hope. Ages 8–12. Agent: Claire Wilson, Rogers, Coleridge & White. (Sept.)
Philip Pullman
Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms is the work of a writer with an utterly distinctive voice and a wild imagination. I admire her novels very much, and I hope they find the success they deserve. I’m certainly looking forward to her next."
Maryrose Wood
"Katherine Rundell's Rooftoppers is a confection of lyrical prose. Bold imaginative leaps carry the reader from one Parisian rooftop to the next in this unique and beautifully written tale of a girl in search of the mother whom everyone else believes is dead."
Sharon Creech
"Rooftoppers drew me in immediately and carried me along straight to the end with its original voice and lively story."
Hilary McKay
"Here comes a classic... Fantastic joyous storytelling. I was entranced. This is the only book I have ever read that made me long to cook sausages on a roof. From the first page onwards I knew I was reading something that sparkled (and it just got brighter and brighter). I'm a bit jealous actually; I wish I'd written it. Gorgeous, witty, kind, amazing, vertigo inducing, breathtaking, utterly charming. I loved, loved, loved this little gem of a book. Hold your breath- this book is magic."
"Instead of making Zimbabwe some mysterious “other” place, she imbues it with color, love and vibrancy...Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms offers readers a sympathetic and enticing portrait of a part of the world they might not have heard of before reading this book, but will certainly be intrigued by ever after."
Shelf Awareness
"Katherine Rundell once again demonstrates her ability to weave a story with a strong, determined female character...This one's for readers who appreciate the classic elements of storytelling with a twist."
"Rundell writes with a beautiful voice...both gripping and profound."
Horn Book Magazine
"Rundell’s finely drawn etchings of the people in Will’s sphere and rich descriptions of African colonial farm life sprawl across the page in sensual largesse."
starred review Booklist
*"Rundell’s language soars in this portrait of a fierce and largehearted girl."
VOYA, August 2014 (Vol. 37, No. 3) - Courtney Huse Wika
Will is a wildcat of a girl. Living with her father and his hired men on an African farm, she knows the wild like she knows her own heartbeat. An adventurer, explorer, friend to all animals, and as tough as any boy, Wilhemina Silver’s world is one of unrestrained joy. She knows how to create shelter in the bush, forage for food, befriend the animals, and hold her own in nearly any situation. When tragedy strikes, however, that world is shattered. Orphaned and evicted from her home, she is sent to a boarding school in London. Will has never been around girls her age, nor has she received any formal education, and her clothes, accent, and mannerisms are unacceptable to the plastic and expensive girls of Leewood School. Bullied and ostracized, Will’s survival skills are put to the test against her peers, the city, and her overwhelming sense of loss. Cartwheeling In Thunderstorms is a treasure of a book. Rendered in beautiful, atmospheric prose, the story inspires discussion of personal identity and belonging, the nature of home, and the necessity of perseverance. The reader cannot help but fall in love with Wildcat Will’s strength and wit, and root for her as she contends with the terrible unfairness that sometimes strikes in life. While the ending rushes to a resolution, it nonetheless closes this chapter of Will’s story with hope and possibility. It may require pushing, but readers will be hooked after the first page. Reviewer: Courtney Huse Wika; Ages 11 to 15.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-04-30
"It wasn't until Will's Wildcat life came under threat that she realized how dearly she loved it."Wilhelmina Silver—Will, Madman and Wildcat to those who love her—deeply relishes her life in rural Zimbabwe. Daughter of a mother long lost to malaria and a loving English father who is foreman at Two Tree Hill Farm, Will spends her time racing about the vibrant terrain as an uber-tomboy. Her best friend is a farmhand her own age, known since their earlier childhood: "a tall, fluid black boy to her waiflike, angular white girl." Will's carefree, African world shatters when her father succumbs to malaria, after which the plantation owner's new, manipulative wife sends Will to a boarding school in London. Apparently set in the present day, the story accelerates its pace as Will uses her wits and her considerable athleticism to combat the hostility of bullying classmates and to cope with her new, cold, urban surroundings. There is an excellent balance of characters both villainous and helpful as readers follow the fiercely independent Will through hardship and into triumph. They cannot help but dearly love Will and her motto of "Truth, ja, and courage."With debut novel Rooftoppers (2013), Rundell showed her capacity to write an entertaining story featuring a courageous female protagonist; this second novel surpasses by virtue of its striking, soaring prose. (Fiction. 8-13)

Read More

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date:
Sold by:
Sales rank:
720L (what's this?)
File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms

  • WILHELMINA KNEW THAT THERE WERE some houses that had glass in every window and locks on the doors.

    The farmhouse in which she lived was not one of them. If there was a key to the front door, Wilhelmina had never seen it. It was likely that the goats that wandered in and out of the kitchen had eaten it. The house was at the end of the longest of the farm roads in the hottest corner of Zimbabwe. Her bedroom window was a square space in the wall. During the rains, she sewed plastic bags to make a screen and stretched it across the frame. During the heat, the dust blew in.

    Years ago, a visitor to the farm had asked Will about her window.

    “Surely your father can afford a pane of glass?”

    “I like to be dusty,” she had said, “and wet.” Dust and rain made mud. Mud was full of possibilities.

    The farm roads were bald and red with the settled dust. They were walked daily by Captain Browne, owner of the farm, driven daily by William Silver, foreman of the farm, and ridden daily by Wilhelmina, William’s only child.

    Wilhelmina rode better than any boy on the farm, because her father had known that to ride before you can walk is like drinking from glass bottles of Coke underwater, or hanging by the knees from baobab trees: disorienting and delicious. So Wilhelmina grew up running under horses’ bellies and tripping up into horse manure and tugging handfuls of her long dark hair when horseflies stung. The horseboys living in the tin-roofed cottages in the staff quarters never wept at horseflies—sometimes they swore in a leisurely, laughing way in Shona—“Ach, booraguma”—and Wilhelmina was sure that she was the equal of any boy. She was faster than most of the boys her age on foot, too. And she was many other things: When the men on the farm talked about her in the evenings, they needed handfuls of “ands” to describe her: Will was stubborn, sha, and exasperating and wild and honest and true.

    •  •  •

    In the morning light of late October, Will was crouched on the floor stirring a pot of methylated spirit and water. Meths, applied to the feet, hardened the soles and made living shoes. There were six assorted chairs in the airy sitting room, but Will liked the floor. There was more space. Will had widely spaced eyes, and widely spaced toes, and was altogether a favorite of space. Her talk was spaced too, she knew—the slow talk of the African afternoon, with good gaps of silence.

    Will heard the clatter of hooves and a hungry whinnying. That meant William Silver was home from his early-morning gallop over the farm. Everyone in that part of Zimbabwe rose early. The main part of the day’s work had to be done by lunch, and October was the hottest month. The heat melted the roads into tarred soup; birds got stuck in it.

    The sitting room door opened, and a hairy face peered round it. Will felt the door open before she saw it; it was joy. Dad was back; she jumped up in one single movement, all speed and legs, and hurled herself into his arms, wrapping her feet around his waist. “Dad!”

    “Morning! Morning, Wildcat.”

    Will buried her face in her father’s neck. “Morning, Dad,” she said, her voice muffled. With most men, Will was tense-muscled. They left her half-marveling and half-wary, and she made sure to keep her few steps of distance. She hated having to shake hands with the unknown skin of strangers; but Dad, with his muscled softness, was different.

    “But I thought you were gone for the day, hey?” said William.

    “Ja. Ja, soon. But I wanted to see your face first, Dad. I missed you.” Will had been out at the tree house last night, asleep in the largeness of the night air by the time her father had gotten home. They could go for days without seeing each other, but she thought it made the happiness, when they did, sharper—more tangy. “But now”—she scrambled up—“I can go, ja. I haven’t fed Shumba, and Simon’ll be waiting.” She turned at the door, wanting to say something that would mean “I love you. Goodness how I do love you.”

    “Faranuka, Dad!” Faranuka. Will’s Shona was good, and “Faranuka” was Shona for “Be happy.”

    •  •  •

    Simon was waiting. Simon was Will’s best friend. He was everything that she wasn’t—a tall, fluid black boy to her waiflike, angular white girl. It had not been love at first sight. When Simon had arrived to train as a farmhand, Will had taken one single look and with six-year-old certainty announced that, no, she did not like him. He was flimsy. That was because Simon had enormous bush-baby eyes, tender trusting pools that seemed to hold tears just ready to fall from beneath stupidly curled lashes.

    But it hadn’t taken long for Will to see that Simon was breathing, leaping, brilliant proof that appearances are deceptive. In fact, she knew now, Si was a stretched-catapult of a boy, the scourge of the stables, with a hoarse laugh much too deep for him, and arms and legs that jerked and broke any passing cup or plate. His dislike of the tin bathtub, and his reveling in the softly squelching Zimbabwean mud, meant that Simon had a distinctive smell. He smelled to the young Will of dust and sap and salt beef.

    Will had smelled to Simon of earth and sap and mint.

    So with such essential aspects in common—the sap, most obviously, but also the large eyes and the haphazard limbs—it was inevitable that the two fell in sort-of-love by the time they were seven, and by the time their ages were in double digits, they were friends of the firmest, stickiest, and eternal sort.

    Simon was the one who had taught Will how to bring her horse to a gallop on the home stretch to the stables, yelling “Yah! Ee-yah! Come on, slowcoach!” And he taught her how to swing herself round to the underside of the horse’s neck and ride upside down so that her long hair was coated with the flying dust, and her cheeks slipped into her eyes.

    They swapped languages. He learned her Zimbabwean-twanged English and she—with tongue-poked-out concentration—the basics of his Chikorekore Shona. She showed him how to swim underwater for minutes at a time. The trick was to breathe in slowly beforehand—not a gulp, but patiently and through pursed lips, like sucking through a straw. Her feet became dark brown and hardened from years of barefoot races across the fields, and her nails were filthy.

    Since last December, Simon had lived with his brother Tedias in the staff quarters, a block of brick huts and fires on the edge of  Two Tree Hill Farm. The name, Captain Browne had said, rolling one of his cigarettes in tobacco-green fingers, was a kind of bad joke, because there were several hundred trees on Two Tree Hill, enough to obliterate the hill itself. In fact, he said, it would have been better named Just Tree Farm. Or Tree Tree Tree Tree Tree Farm. Ha-ha, Captain Browne.

    But of course there were clear patches, made of brown grass and shimmering heat and anthills, and it was across one of these that Will now ran, kicking the backs of her feet against her bottom and singing. As soon as she was within shouting distance of Simon’s mudbricked home, Will gave her best Shona call.

    “Ee-weh!” Shouting distance on that farm was at least a field-length farther than anywhere else, because the air was still and there were no cars except for the truck; a little noise went a gloriously long way. “Simon! Simon! You in, Si?”

    •  •  •

    Simon picked his nose in a pointed sort of way. He was squatting outside the hut just within the shade of the brown thatch roof, drinking Coke from a glass bottle. Tedias nudged Simon with his toe. He spoke in Shona, “Uchaenda. Up, boy. Off with you to the little madam.”

    The “little madam” was an old joke. The shrill and imperious “madam” of the typical farmer’s wife couldn’t be further from Will’s brown and gold manners.

    Simon threw an aggrieved pebble at Will’s feet. “Will!” He scowled. “Where you been? I thought you weren’t coming. You such a slowcoach, man.” She wasn’t, but he said it anyway. “Like a caterpillar with no legs. Was going to go off without you just now, madman.” “Madman” was Simon’s variation on “madam.” They both thought it was closer to the truth.

    “Oh, sorry. Sorry, Si, truly. Sorry-sorry.” Will didn’t give explanations.

    She stared up at Tedias, whom Will loved achingly. He was a hero, big and scarred and restfully silent. She had to squint because the sun was strong now, beating in the edgeless blue of the sky.

    “Mangwanani, Tedias.” She bobbed the curtsy she gave to the captain’s visitors. “Mangwanani” meant “good morning.” Her Simon did not need to be saluted, but Tedias, in his slow largeness, his bare chest, and his kindness to the dogs, deserved respect.

    “Mangwanani, Will.” He pronounced her name like all the men on the farm, “wheel,” and her father had picked it up, called her Buck and Wheel, Cartwheel, Catherine Wheel. “Marara sei, Wheel? Did you sleep?”

    There was a formal answer to that, but Will, to her annoyance, found she’d forgotten it. There were codes in Shona she hadn’t yet learned, and she quivered now; there was so much to know, there were subtleties that hung out of sight, things that she knew she didn’t know she didn’t know. She said, “Ndarara . . . ah . . . Ndarara kana mararawo.” I slept well if you slept well.

    Tedias nodded with what seemed to be approval. (Though, you couldn’t be sure with other people, Will thought, staring up at his slow, heavy smile. That was a central rule to life, the one thing you could be sure of.) “Ndarara, Will, yes,” said Tedias. “I slept.”

    Simon, Will could see, was growing tired of the formalities. He finished his Coke, burped, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and threw down the bottle. He kicked it along the path. “Come on, Will. Madman mad-cat Will.” He hopped backward, so that each hop landed on “on.” “Come on, come on, come on, girl.”

    But Will stayed in the sun, trying not to smile. Because Will didn’t take orders from anyone. She crouched down, making her most aggravating proud-face, and began scratching a W in the dirt with a long stick. A beetle lumbered up it and onto her arm, and she stilled herself, enjoying the tickling feeling of its thread-thin feet. It was deep green with shimmers of blue and turquoise, with pitch-black legs. She kissed it very softly. If happiness were a color, it would be the color of this beetle, thought Will.

    There was a whistle. Will grinned. Simon’s whistles were so perfect that they could speak whole archways of emotion: shock, happiness, hot admiration, look out! This one said, “I’m waiting.” With maybe a hint of, “And I’m hungry.” They were planning a quick raid on the mango tree and a picnic by the rock pool. She should go, she knew.

    But it was hard for Will Silver to keep firm hands on herself, because small things—dragonflies, earwigs, sticks with peeling bark, warm rain, those wonderful curls of fur behind the dogs’ ears—they had a strange way of making time disappear. She had wondered, often, if other people felt the same way, but had never been able to explain it properly, that feeling of sharpness and fullness.

    Simon whistled again. He meant it this time, Will could tell. She jumped up to standing, whipped up an imaginary horse—whooping her throaty, “Yagh! Yah!”—and tore past him. Will was fast, and proud of it. She ran tilting forward, tanned skin stark against the white-blue of the sky and the yellow-green of the grass. “Race you, Si!” she called, but she didn’t say where to.

    Simon hurtled after her. She was uncatchable in this mood, like a bushfire, infectious and exasperating at once. She might run for miles and miles and miles.

    As he threw his long legs after her, he cried, “Look at the little madman! Look at that dirt! Ach, pity our poor foreman—his little girl’s gone wild!”

    Read More

  • Meet the Author

    Katherine Rundell is the author of Rooftoppers, Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms (a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner), and The Wolf Wilder. She grew up in Zimbabwe, Brussels, and London, and is currently a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. She begins each day with a cartwheel and believes that reading is almost exactly the same as cartwheeling: it turns the world upside down and leaves you breathless. In her spare time, she enjoys walking on tightropes and trespassing on the rooftops of Oxford colleges.

    Customer Reviews

    Average Review:

    Write a Review

    and post it to your social network


    Most Helpful Customer Reviews

    See all customer reviews >

    Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Your writing is truly magical.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    A dark-haired figure stood on a cliff's edge, fierce winds billowing his cloak out behind him. An almost-black metaled sword hung at his side, his pale hand gripping it tightly. <p> "Soon, my Lady, soon. . ." The man murmured, his voice like a humming bowstring. He turned towards the rising sun, flinching as he was blinded momentarily by its brightness. He sneered, his shadowed eyes glinting with hate. "Soon the sun will be gone forever and Winter shall rule forever." <p> The towering male pivoted around sharply, heading back into the black-blanketed mountains behind him, pearly snowflakes slipping to the ground in the silence. <p> [ The chapters will be longer. Promise. ~ NRM ]