Nfld. & Labrador

Thunder the Great: Children's book inspired by Fort McMurray gerbil's survival story

A Newfoundland mom who went to great lengths to save her son's gerbil during the Fort McMurray wildfires has the perfect Christmas gift for the kids in her life: a book about Thunder the Great's harrowing escape.

Newfoundland woman says story paints a more positive picture of Fort McMurray

Saving Thunder the Great: The True Story of a Gerbil's Escape from the Fort McMurray Wildfire is available for pre-order online through Boulder Publications. (Boulder Publications)

A Newfoundland mom who went to great lengths to save her son's pet gerbil during the Fort McMurray wildfires already knows what she's giving friends for Christmas: a book about the pair's harrowing escape.

"It's safe to say anybody who has a child that I give gifts to will be receiving a book," Julie Lodge said during an interview with CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

The 32-page illustrated book by Leanne Shirtliffe is based on conversations Lodge had with her young son, who was in Newfoundland when the fires broke out.

Newfoundlander Julie Lodge and Thunder, her son's pet gerbil, made the drive from Fort McMurrary to British Columbia during the spring wildfires. (Julie Lodge/Twitter)

After learning gerbils are on the no-fly list, Lodge, who now lives in Fort McMurray, refused to leave Thunder the Great behind. Instead, she rented a car and made the drive to British Columbia with the little critter in tow.

"Thunder rode on the front seat with me," Lodge recalled.

It casts the place in a much more positive light than, a lot of times, what the media showed.- Julie Lodge, Fort McMurray resident

"I picked up a lady and her son along the way and they sat in the back and Thunder sat shotgun in the front, so he was there with me through the whole thing."

Lodge, who's originally from Catalina, said the book is true to life, despite being a children's story.

She said the author also wrote an afterword to give more context of the lives of the people living and working in Fort McMurray.

Gavin Will says Thunder's story is about more than just a gerbil escaping the Fort McMurray wildfire — it's about people coming together in a crisis. (Terry Reith/CBC)

"It casts the place in a much more positive light than, a lot of times, what the media showed of Fort McMurray and gives a little background on the people and the culture," she said.

"It's kind of emotional when you read that everybody got out, and everybody got out alive, and now everybody is just working on moving forward and moving on with life — and life goes on, I guess."

'Little Thunder has crossed the rainbow bridge'

Lodge said it was important to give back to the community that's been her home for more than six years and, when asked to pick a charity that will receive a portion of profits from book sales, she chose the local SPCA.

"They did such a huge animal rescue here during the evacuation," Lodge said.

While Thunder the gerbil has since died, Lodge hopes his story of survival will encourage others.

"Even though little Thunder has crossed the rainbow bridge, his story will continue to give … hope and some life to other animals as well."

"Even superstar gerbils need their beauty sleep," Julie Lodge tweeted in June with a picture of a sleeping Thunder. (Twitter/Julie Lodge)

Gavin Will, head of Boulder Publications, said he first heard Thunder's story on CBC Radio. And while it was the gerbil that first intrigued him, Will said he quickly realized Lodge's experience was moreso "a story about people coming together in a time of crisis."

"Julie, the first thing she does is climb into her car and help two people standing by the side of the road [who are] wondering how to get out," he said.

"And then her car runs out of gas and she's helped by others — and that's really what happened."

Meanwhile, Lodge's 11-year-old son Jackson is delighted to have a book written about his reunion with pet gerbil Thunder.

"My son is wondering if he's going to have to do autographs at the book signing," Lodge laughed.

Saving Thunder the Great is available for pre-order on the Boulder Publications website. It will be available in stores Oct. 21.

With files from Gavin Simms