Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction
I like learning about history through children's and young adult books--it's easier for me to learn about certain aspects of historical events that way. So, I just finished reading Matt Phelan’s graphic novel, The Storm in the Barn, which takes place in a farming town during the Great Depression. The colors of the illustrations set the reader in the hazy atmosphere of the Dust Bowl—brown, yellow, orange, gray and black. The story focuses on Jack, who hasn’t found his place to help his father on the farm since the dust took over and there are no crops.
Jack is having a rough time overall—his older sister has dust pneumonia and he is picked on by the other boys in town. Jack wants to be helpful to his father, but seems to fumble what he does and then his father just wants him to go watch his little sister. One day while exploring his neighbor’s barn, Jack discovers an almost folklore-like creature, which he finds intimidating and scary—he starts to question his sanity, especially since others believe he has dust dementia.
Later in the novel, Jack decides to confront the mysterious figure in the barn after he witnesses a jackrabbit drive—the mass killing of jackrabbits because they were eating the only green left on the land--by the local men (not a graphic scene in itself, but the point is made—half the men are shaken after they realized what they just did). Jack soon realizes that this creature in the barn is the rain and when he confronts the Storm King he finds out that the rain is holding off till people are so desperate that they will worship him like a king.
In a folklore-like action, Jack steals the Storms King’s bag, which it turns out contains thunder and lightning and when ripped open sends the Storm King back to the sky and releases the rain.
The Storm in the Barn would work well paired with the nonfiction title, The Dust Bowl Through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Helped Remedy a National Disaster by Martin W. Sandler. This book contains very powerful images from the Dust Bowl and the text is not overwhelming because the author wanted the photos to really tell the story. I also feel compelled to mention Karen Hesse’s Out Of the Dust as another great fictional pairing to help teach about the Dust Bowl.
Hesse, K. (1999). Out of the dust. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Phelan, M. (2009). The Storm in the barn. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Sandler, M. W. (2009). The Dust Bowl through the lens: how photography revealed and helped remedy a national disaster. New York, NY: Walker & Co.