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The Storm in the Barn
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The Storm in the Barn

4.1 6
by Matt Phelan

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Tall tale. Thriller. Gripping historical fiction. This artful, sparely told graphic novel — a tale of a boy in Dust Bowl America — will resonate with young readers today.

In Kansas in the year 1937, eleven-year-old Jack Clark faces his share of ordinary challenges: local bullies, his father’s failed expectations, a little sister with


Tall tale. Thriller. Gripping historical fiction. This artful, sparely told graphic novel — a tale of a boy in Dust Bowl America — will resonate with young readers today.

In Kansas in the year 1937, eleven-year-old Jack Clark faces his share of ordinary challenges: local bullies, his father’s failed expectations, a little sister with an eye for trouble. But he also has to deal with the effects of the Dust Bowl, including rising tensions in his small town and the spread of a shadowy illness. Certainly a case of "dust dementia" would explain who (or what) Jack has glimpsed in the Talbot’s abandoned barn — a sinister figure with a face like rain. In a land where it never rains, it’s hard to trust what you see with your own eyes — and harder still to take heart and be a hero when the time comes. With phenomenal pacing, sensitivity, and a sure command of suspense, Matt Phelan ushers us into a world where desperation is transformed by unexpected courage.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set during the 1930s, when Kansas farmers tried to survive during a terrible drought, this graphic novel for younger readers shows a boy discovering that he can save his family by bringing back the rain. Jack Clark is a shy 11-year-old whose father thinks he's useless at practical chores. The boy is not used to having any responsibilities, so when he sees a dark figure lurking in an abandoned barn near their house, he doesn't want to do anything about it. He'd rather chalk it up to “dust dementia,” until he realizes that the brooding shape is the rain, which has withdrawn from the land so that people will yearn for it until they are willing to worship it as a god. What Jack does next won't surprise readers who've seen countless puny but plucky heroes in juvenile fiction. The big novelty here is the Dust Bowl setting, and Phelan's art emphasizes the swirling, billowing clouds of fine grit that obscure even nearby objects. Older readers might have appreciated more text to make up for the lack of visual clarity, but kids will identify with Jack and appreciate his success. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Michael Jung
Writer and artist Matt Phelan turns the Dust Bowl of the 1930s into a contemporary fairy tale in this grim graphic novel that contains shades of both The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and American tall tales. For as long as he can remember, eleven-year-old Jack Clark's Kansas town has been plagued by dust storms that have left his sister bedridden and his family destitute, but, lately, the dust seems to be affecting Jack in stranger ways like making him see a ghostly figure in the barn whose face looks like a living rain cloud. Is this ghost the result of "dust dementia" as the family doctor claims, or could Jack be seeing something more incredible, something directly responsible for his family's misfortunes? More fantasy than historical fiction, The Storm in the Barn is notable for Phelan's sparse pencil drawings which look like movie storyboards and effectively convey the gloomy slowness of life felt by the characters. In his Author's Note, Phelan acknowledges it was this haunted look, which he first saw in black-and-white photos of Dust Bowl farmers, rather than the actual causes of the Dust Bowl, that inspired this graphic novel. As such, the book succeeds brilliantly and will please readers of contemporary fairy tales, although people researching the real Dust Bowl will probably want to study historical texts and documentaries first. Reviewer: Michael Jung
VOYA - Sophie Brookover
The Dust Bowl is in full effect in 1937 Kansas, and Jack Clark's family is reeling: his older sister is dying of dust pneumonia, and his parents could lose the family farm. Elevenyear- old Jack, meanwhile, has problems of his own—targeted daily by bullies and inept in the ways of rural manliness, he feels lost and extraneous, an interloper in his own life. After overhearing the family doctor describe a new illness, dust dementia, which makes sufferers imagine that they are seeing things in the storms that roll across the prairies, Jack is not sure how to explain the towering, dripping figure he encounters in the neighbors' abandoned barn. Is he the latest victim of dust dementia or is there really something there, something powerful, dangerous, and possibly helpful? Phelan's panels, which stretch on wordlessly for pages at a time, evoke both the majestic sweep and crushing loneliness of the bonedry prairies during the Great Depression, and his mastery of facial expressions and body language allow him to communicate in just a few pen strokes what could take paragraphs of text. Jack is wonderfully sympathetic as he struggles against personal and paranormal demons, and the accurate historical details— including a brutal rabbit drive, the tall tales Jack enjoys, and the Clark siblings' love of L. Frank Baum's Oz stories—throw the fantastical elements of the story into higher, almost mythological relief. It is a triumph of storytelling, and a true appetite-whetter for students of American history. Reviewer: Sophie Brookover
School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-It is 1937 in Kansas, during the Dust Bowl, and 11-year-old Jack can barely remember a world with plentiful water and crops. Unable to help his father with a harvest that isn’t there, and bullied by the other boys his age, he feels like a useless baby. Stories offer a refuge, and there are multiple stories in this work. Jack’s mother tells about the time when the land was a fertile “paradise.” Jack’s invalid sister, Dorothy, is readingThe Wizard of Oz, gaining inspiration from the adventures of another Kansan of the same name. Jack’s friend comforts him with folktales about a brave man named Jack who masters nature, battling the King of the West Wind, the King of Blizzards, and the King of the Northeast Winds. In the end, Phelan turns the Dust Bowl into another one of Ernie’s “Jack” tales when the real Jack encounters the Storm King in an abandoned barn and finds out that he has been holding back the rain. The boy must then gather the strength to determine his own narrative, as well as his parched town’s future. Children can read this as a work of historical fiction, a piece of folklore, a scary story, a graphic novel, or all four. Written with simple, direct language, it’s an almost wordless book: the illustrations’ shadowy grays and blurry lines eloquently depict the haze of the dust. A complex but accessible and fascinating book. –Lisa Goldstein, Brooklyn Public Library, NY
Kirkus Reviews
Eleven-year-old Jack Clark feels useless on his family's Kansas farm. It's 1937: The rain went away when he was seven, so he's never been able to help out. His older sister Dorothy is sick with Dust Pneumonia, and little sister Mabel doesn't provide much companionship. Jack is the favorite target of the town bullies, but general-store owner Ernie tries to cheer Jack with traditional "Jack tales." Then the boy sees a mysterious flash in the Talbots' abandoned barn. When he investigates, he discovers a frightening apparition. Talking about it starts rumors he is suffering from Dust Dementia. Just when his family has given up hope, Jack, inspired by Ernie's stories, confronts the creature and fights a fantastic battle with miraculous results. Author/illustrator Phelan's first graphic tale is part historical mystery, part fantasy thriller. The pencil-and-watercolor panels are cinematically framed and often wordless, advancing the plot and delineating character with careful strokes. The bleakness of the Dust Bowl comes through in both the landscape and the hopeless faces of his characters. This is not to be missed. (Graphic fiction. 9-14)

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
7.78(w) x 9.28(h) x 0.80(d)
GN430L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

Matt Phelan is the illustrator of many books for young readers, including ALWAYS by Ann Stott and THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY by Susan Patron, winner of the 2007 Newbery Medal. THE STORM IN THE BARN is his first graphic novel. He lives in Philadelphia.

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Storm in the Barn 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Intisar More than 1 year ago
It's been a while since I read a graphic novel, and even longer since I was so deeply impressed by what I read--or saw, in the case of this book. The Storm in the Barn is probably geared towards middle graders, telling the story of an eleven year old boy and his family living on a desolate farm during the Dust Bowl. As an adult, it was captivating. This story has almost no words; this is a story of silences, words unspoken, and fears both spoken and dreamt. The young hero, Jack Clark, must face bullies, a deep sense of failure in meeting his father's expectations, a dust-related illness that leaves his eldest sister bedridden, and a deep sense of hopelessness. That's a lot for a child, and in some ways Jack is older than his years--believably so. He's had to grow up a little too fast, and it shows. But as he begins to uncover the mystery of the presence in the abandoned barn on the next farm over, Jack begins to come into his own. It's a beautiful, gripping story--and a very quick read for adults. Highly recommended.
CatsInSpace More than 1 year ago
In Kansas in 1937 there wasn’t much left of the once-hearty croplands except dry soil. The soil was so dry that it blew around in the wind, giving the area the nickname the “Dust Bowl.” People had to abandon their farmland and homes and travel west in hopes of finding work, food, and a better life. The dust was choking the life out of them and all they knew. Into this setting, author/illustrator Matt Phelan places eleven-year-old Jack Clark in the graphic novel The Storm in the Barn. One of Jack’s sisters is sick with a terrible cough the doctor calls “dust pneumonia” and believes Jack may have “dust dementia” due to his rash actions. Jack starts to believe the doctor when he sees a man-like being with a face like rain in the neighbor’s abandoned barn. Jack is scared of what he sees, but he must face his fear if he hopes to save his family and everyone else from the all-encompassing dust. The story itself is a great mystery and a hero’s tale of a young boy who gets beaten down by bullies yet has the strength to face the unknown. But the story is not the best part of this book. Phelan’s illustrations are simply amazing. The pencil sketches are beautiful, portraying the dust in sweeping strokes and the characters’ faces in expressive simplicity. Phelan can show so much with so few marks on the page. It is because of the illustrations that this book caught my eye and kept me turning pages. The silence hits you across the drawings, across the pages, so you feel like you are in that dry wasteland with nothing but the wind swirling around you. It doesn’t matter if the reader is interested in the Great Depression or not—he or she will be engrossed by this awesome book. Readers who enjoyed Brian Selznick’s works The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck could love this book as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like this book! it is really interesting and the pictures have such good detail! You should get this book
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