Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)
“Stunningly-written...Descriptive, almost poetic language.”
VOYA - Carrie Eldridge
Eleven-year-olds Annie and Violet are best friends growing up in Cimmaron County, Oklahoma, during the Great Depression. The day Annie learned to walk the first dust storm hit. Hardship is the only thing the girls have known in their short lives, but like children everywhere they adapt, play, and go to school together. Their families help each other out during the hard times. Annie loves her home and digging through the dust for arrowheads, and dreams of becoming an anthropologist. Violet loves to pretend and act out stories; she dreams of getting away from the dust and moving to California. When things take a turn for the worse in Violet's family, Violet is forced to stay home from school to help out. Finally, in order to save their land from the bank, Violet's family boards up their home and heads to California like so many before them. Annie mourns the loss of her friend and the two vow to keep in touch. Their contrasting letters chronicle the return of the rain (and hope) in Oklahoma and the despair of life in the California migrant worker camps. In the end, Violet and Annie discover that the "treasures in the dust" are truly found in each other and their families. Narrated by each girl in alternating chapters, this stunningly-written book brings to life the hardships and triumphs of the people so devastated by the Depression and the drought. One can almost taste the dust as the author describes how the sand dunes "curve around the barn and change a fence clogged with tumble weeds into a dinosaur spine." Told in descriptive, almost poetic language, this is an excellent choice for history and humanities teachers studying this time period, and it will also appeal to the general reader. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P M J (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Broad general YA appeal, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8 and Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9).
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8--There are at least two Treasures in the Dust--Annie and Violet, both 11--whose voices alternate the telling of their families' stories in rural Oklahoma during the drought and Great Depression. A historical piece to be sure, this is also a story of friendship between unlike personalities. Annie is more grounded and accepting of the dust that has drifted through her life since infancy, and her family is luckier than Violet's. They still have cows and chickens. Violet is imaginative, story-crazy, "always looking to fly away." With a baby, 4-year-old twins, and a blind, 90-year-old aunt who needs care, her folks are desperate. When the elderly woman dies, Violet's family is free to pursue a new life in California. Her voice becomes more distant in letters to Annie. Porter seems to have borrowed from her background as a poet to create a story rich in descriptive language and lyrical images: "Anything catching a slant of sunlight looks like it could burst into flames," "too tight with sadness to say anything." Readers learn about life during this period: gathering weeds and cactus for the cows, making corncob dolls with wire arms for posing, helping to birth a calf even though it's usually a boy's job, walking holding onto the wire tied from the windmill to the chicken coop to avoid getting lost in a dust storm. From Violet, Annie also learns about make-believe. A fine piece of writing that will give young readers a sense of the past and what it means for two friends to help each other come of age.--Harriett Fargnoli, Great Neck Library, NY
Set during a severe 1930s drought and recalling the ambience and incidents of The Grapes of Wrath, this Dust Bowl novel chronicles the plights of two families, told from the points of view of two best friends who narrate alternating chapters. Annie is the solid and spunky would-be archaeologist who combs the dust for arrowheads and sets up a library museum. Violet is her companion and alter ego, a thinker and dreamer with a dose of Annie's tenacity. The hardships of farming the Oklahoma panhandle and the forced exodus of Violet's family to California to work as migrant laborers furnish a convincing backdrop for this well-drawn character novel. The story unfolds through lilting descriptions and fervent dialogue, then gives way to affecting letters from Violet as she leaves home with her family. In her first novel, Porter infuses a barren landscape with searing images as static electricity sparks over the roof of a truck and "dunes curve around the barn like arms and change a fence clogged with tumbleweeds into a dinosaur spine"; Annie recounts the taste of dust in the bread or the sound of a storm "tapping like a million pencil points against the window." Each girl leaves a legacyone, ancestral objects, the other, a trail of corn kernels planted along the way. But the real legacy is spirit and heart amidst hardship, which readers, are sure to appreciate.
Read an Excerpt
Mama says the first storm came the day I learned to walk. I've heard the story so many times I know it by heart. I was fixed on her apron, fussing to be picked up while she kneaded dough. Something outside took my interest, and as if I had known how all along, I let go. Before I could fall down the stairs, Mama scooped me up in her arms. She danced me across the porch when a strange sight stopped her.
Our yard was full of a mismatched flock of birds. Mourning doves and sparrows, blackbirds and starlings circled themselves and squawked. Some were nervous and agitated. Others were so weak they dragged their wings on the dry, hard earth that was once our vegetable garden. Off in the distance, a black cloud rolled over the land. Big as a mountain, it looked like it could cover all of Cimarron County. Lightning scattered the birds across the sky. Holding me tightly against her chest, Mama ran to the field calling for Pa.
For the rest of the day and through the night, my family huddled together under the kitchen table. Pa turned it into a tent by hanging blankets over it and weighting them down with jars of Mama's canned fruit. Mama held me under her apron to keep the dust out of my lungs. My big brother, Liam, says the wind was so strong the dust sounded like sand rattling against the windows.
That was the first storm my family faced. By the time I was talking, we had struggled through dozens. Dust is as much a part of my life as sunlight and air. Sometimes it is invisible, mostly it is silent, but it is always with us. It drifts through our house like a ghost, partially filling a teacup left out on the counter, smudging the tops ofpicture frames and the blue willow platter hanging on the wall. It scrapes the key when Pa winds the clock. It seeps through cracks in the windows and fills the grooves in the floorboards. We hear it grinding into the wood when we walk. It covers my pillow when I sleep. In the morning the only white space is where I've laid my head. Days after a storm, the ceiling sags with the weight of the dust collecting in the attic. Pa shovels it out through the ventilation window, and it becomes a waterfall of dust.
Mama says the look of the land makes her heartsick. Maybe because it's all I've ever known of home, I think it is pretty here. Dunes shift and change every day. They curve around the barn like arms and change a fence clogged with tumbleweeds into a dinosaur spine.
Sometimes the winds expose Indian campgrounds that time buried long ago. After a storm I go out searching for arrowheads. I keep a shoe box of treasures hidden under my bed. There are spearheads carved from flint, and tiny arrowheads no longer than my thumbnail carved from obsidian. I look at them at night before I turn down the lamp, imagining what life was like when the Plains Indians lived here, and there was nothing but prairie grass and buffalo as far as the eye could see.
When Mama looks sad, I climb into her lap and hold her. She worries that a spell of hard times is surrounding my childhood. She wants me to know what it's like to play hide-and-seek in a cornfield. She wants to see me skipping through a spring shower, mouth open, drinking drops of rain. Sometimes she worries we'll have to move west and work the fields like so many other families in our county, but Pa says this won't happen to us.
The old rocking chair creaks on the porch. Cicadas rustle their wings. I want to tell her what the storms have taught me. I want to tell her how I want to be an archaeologist and travel the world digging for the past. But she seems too sad for me to talk of when I will leave the family. My name is Annie May Weightman. I am eleven, watching the sunset from my mother's lap.