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Children's Fiction Horses

Ancient Thunder

by (author) Leo Yerxa

Groundwood Books Ltd
Initial publish date
Sep 2006
Horses, Native Canadian
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2006
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2012
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Feb 2012
    List Price

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Where to buy it

Out of print

This edition is not currently available in bookstores. Check your local library or search for used copies at Abebooks.

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 3 to 6
  • Grade: p to 1
  • Reading age: 4 to 18


Winner of the Governor General's Award for Children's Illustration

A beautiful and visionary book, Ancient Thunder celebrates wild horses and the natural world of the prairies.

Using an extraordinary technique, Leo Yerxa, an artist of Ojibway ancestry, makes paper look like leather, so that his illustrations seem to be painted on leather shirts. Each shirt is accompanied by a rich song of praise for the wild horses that came to play such an important role in the lives of the First Peoples.

Years in the making, the book is truly a work of art — one that reflects Yerxa's sense of nature and the place of native people within it.

About the author

Leo Yerxa was an award-winning writer, illustrator and artist. His first book, Last Leaf First Snowflake to Fall, was a finalist for the Governor General's Award for Illustration and Ancient Thunder won the Governor General's Award and many other accolades. Leo was born on the Little Eagle Reserve in northern Ontario. He studied graphic arts at Algonquin College in Ottawa, fine arts at the University of Waterloo, and worked with Tom Hill, a respected figure in Indigenous art in Canada. Leo was the first Indigenous person in Canada to design coins for the Royal Canadian Mint incorporating Indigenous design elements and First Nations athletes (Series IV 1975 Olympic Coins, Montreal Olympics 1976). A set of his murals can be seen at the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre on the Rainy River First Nations National Historic Site in Ontario. Leo provided illustrations for Halfling Spring by Joanne Arnott. He passed away in 2017.

Leo Yerxa's profile page


  • Long-listed, SYRCA Shining Willow Award
  • Commended, OLA Best Bets - Top 10 Picture Books
  • Winner, First Nation Communities Read
  • Short-listed, Anskohk Aboriginal Children's Book of the Year Award
  • Long-listed, CLA CLA Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator's Award
  • Short-listed, Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award
  • Winner, Governor General's Literary Awards: Illustration

Editorial Reviews

The illustrations in this book are astonishing!...Ancient Thunder is completely uplifting, and can be enjoyed by all ages. The horses are able to run off the clothes - even off the pages! With pictures like this, and a concise text, children will be eager to turn the page. Older readers will be in awe of his talent.

Resource Links

With its inspiring tribute to horses and unique illustrations, this book would be a superb addition to any elementary library collection...Younger children will love the illustrations while older students will grow to have an appreciation for the importance of the horses in the life of native people. Teachers may use this book with lessons about Native Americans or inspiration for art projects. This book is a terrific choice.

Library Media Connection

The book will inspire readers with the simple beauty of the horses and nature, which will capture and hold their attention to the last page.

Childhood Education Magazine

...striking and expressive...Yerxa's poetic lyrical text is sparse and thoughtful...Highly Recommended.

CM Magazine

...another surefire prize contender...Ancient Thunder's concise text effectively sets up the book's clever, creative images.


In this title spare, poetic text and vibrant artwork combine to celebrate the mystique of wild horses.

Book Links

The paper, watercolor, and gouache collages are the prominent feature of this beautiful picture book...uniquely created...The movement creates a rhythm that carries the reader through the book. The bold illustrations make a visual statement that can be appreciated alone.

SWON Libraries

Seldom does a picture book strike one so forcibly as a work of art, both visual and verbal. Yerxa's book is an object of beauty and it celebrates beauty in [a] way that must enrich viewers of any age. It has layers of meaning that will continue to reveal themselves in reading after reading. Highly recommended.

Toronto Star

...a work of art.

Ottawa Citizen

...a rich, wild, free song of praise.

Teaching Tolerance inspired, soaring homage to wild horses and to Yerxa's native ancestry.

Quill & Quire

In both their content and feel, the compositions...evoke a sense of wonder...aspiring artists and those interested in native cultures - may well find much to linger over.

Publishers Weekly

Yerxa's illustrations lure us into this mythical world with their rhythmic pacing and bold colorful textures...they reveal a luminously rich vibrancy.

Language Arts

...stunningly beautiful...

Globe and Mail

Librarian Reviews

Ancient Thunder

This book illustrates a poem that is an ode to the horses that play an important role in the Great Plains Aboriginal culture. The main focus of the book is the beautiful artwork. It was created using a technique that makes paper look like leather that has been painted on. Most of the illustrations take the form of scenes painted on the traditional clothing of the Great Plains people. They beautifully convey the author’s vision of the wild horses.

Yerxa’s other books include the Governor General’s Award nominated Last Leaf, First Snowflake. He has won the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Award, the Mr. Christie’s Book Award and the Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Award. The book includes an explanation of the technique used to create the illustrations.

Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. Canadian Aboriginal Books for Schools. 2007-2008.

Ancient Thunder

The canon of First Nations’ children’s literature is growing rapidly. Where we once had only anthologies of legends, we now have picture books that treat children to sophisticated and varied art forms married with compelling text.

This evolution bears traces of one of the most talked about issues around First Nations literature: the appropriation of stories and improper accreditation of source. A lack of information about the background or perspectives of authors and illustrators can compound this problem. Although Western cultures can be fastidious about documentation of sources in an academic context and react readily to the concept of plagiarism, accreditation of oral stories is a relatively new construct.

The question is often asked, “Can a non-Native author write about Native subject matter?” I, who am of European heritage, answer a qualified “yes.” If the author carefully credits the sources and clearly documents his/her background, the audience approaches the work from an informed place and can read accordingly.

In his stunning new book, Ancient Thunder, Leo Yerxa respectfully acknowledges that, although his paintings and poetic text depict Native people of the Great Plains, he himself is of Ojibwa heritage. In a note to the reader, he divulges his childhood fascination with the horse riders of the Plains culture, born through watching movies. Before painting this tribute to the horses and their riders, he researched patterns and designs in museums and books. Yerxa’s honest and open invitation to appreciate his perspective as a fresh look at the horses and Native people of the Plains allows the reader to engage with the book from an informed position.

The choreography– for this book moves as a dance– synchronizes image and poetic song and calls the reader to reflect and look deeper for subtleties that might be missed, given the paucity of text. Double-page collages of beautifully designed clothing, painted with images of horses and fellow creatures of the plains, are offset by a herd of horses that runs in the background from endpage to endpage. In creating the paper for his collages of traditional garments, Yerxa was hoping his finished images would have the appearance of painted leather. In this, he is wholly successful. One would swear that the fringed edges of the shirts are cut buckskin. Children will revel in Yerxa’s free use of the colour palette in depicting the horses that thunder across the pages. This is a treasure that should adorn libraries and personal collections alike.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Fall 2006. Vol.29 No. 4.

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