Over the Christmas break I had a chance to read several graphic novels. Amongst the pile was the 2010 Scott O'Dell Award winner for Historical Fiction, Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan (823 P511S FIC) which tells the story of a farm family struggling to survive during the Dust Bowl era (1930s).
I enjoyed the read, finding the illustrations the strongest part of the narrative (dialogue fairly minimal). It captured, in my mind’s eye, how a drought-stricken and dust-ravaged community would look. I found elements of well known photographs from this time within these illustrations, as well.
But it wasn’t until I read The Dust Bowl through the Lens that I really picked up on the many threads of hardship that had been woven into Storm in the Barn: children suffering from dust pneumonia, families leaving homes and communities, the strain between family members, desolation over what was lost in terms of the rich wheat-producing prairies, and the desperate desire for rain. It was all here in a very accessible format.
In The Dust Bowl through the lens: how photography revealed and helped remedy a national disaster by Martin W. Sandler (973.917 SaD 2009) I saw some familiar, and many unfamiliar, photographs from this time period. The book is as much about the Dust Bowl era as it is about the development and impact of documentary photography as a way to inform Americans about the devastation occurring in the country’s heartland. The power of these pictures had some impact on some government agencies, as well as on the general public, instigating social reforms to assist the farm families who stayed on the land and the displaced families who often became migrant workers on the West Coast.
The linear narrative of this a book clearly presents what this highly productive farmland was like before the drought and dust, how the land was damaged by unchecked cultivation, how drought compounded this damage, and the impact on people (those who left to find work elsewhere and those who stayed behind). It’s fairly comprehensive.
Though both books focus on the American crisis, I think Canadian classrooms would find the books helpful as a counterpoint to the Dirty Thirties as experienced in
. Also, these books could be read when studying contemporary droughts in Canada or other places in the world, which is a prevalent concern in today’s world. Canada
Both books work for grades 5 and up.