The Great American Dust Bowl

Overview

A speck of dust is a tiny thing. In fact, five of them could fit into the period at the end of this sentence.

On a clear, warm Sunday, April 14, 1935, a wild wind whipped up millions upon millions of these specks of dust to form a duster—a savage storm—on America's high southern plains.

The sky turned black, sand-filled winds scoured the paint off houses and cars, trains derailed, and electricity coursed ...

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Overview

A speck of dust is a tiny thing. In fact, five of them could fit into the period at the end of this sentence.

On a clear, warm Sunday, April 14, 1935, a wild wind whipped up millions upon millions of these specks of dust to form a duster—a savage storm—on America's high southern plains.

The sky turned black, sand-filled winds scoured the paint off houses and cars, trains derailed, and electricity coursed through the air. Sand and dirt fell like snow—people got lost in the gloom and suffocated . . . and that was just the beginning.

Don Brown brings the Dirty Thirties to life with kinetic, highly saturated, and lively artwork in this graphic novel of one of America's most catastrophic natural events: the Dust Bowl.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
09/02/2013
The tale of the decade-long drought that laid waste to American plains and ruined the lives of countless farmers is a somber read, but Brown (America Is Under Attack) devotes himself to telling it well, enhancing his expertly paced panels with graphs, text boxes, cutaway views, and extensive quotations from those who endured and survived. He explains how ranchers failed on the plains (“Cattle lacked the sturdiness of bison, and the summer heat and winter blizzards wiped them out”), and how the farmers who replaced them were bamboozled into thinking they could do better on the same ungiving land. WWI inflated wheat prices, the end of the war sent them crashing, and then the drought hit. Brown resists overstatement; a lone farmer’s puzzled look up at the sky is more poignant than any frown. Only the physical descriptions of dust storms pall as later passages revisit details covered earlier. In the end, Brown ties the story of that catastrophe to the one that faces the country now: “In 2011, scorching heat came back and the rain disappeared.” Readers won’t miss the point. Ages 12–up. Agent: Angela Miller, the Miller Agency. (Oct.)¦
From the Publisher
"From its enticing, dramatic cover to its brown endpapers to a comical Grant Wood-esque final image, this is a worthy contribution to the nonfiction shelves."
Kirkus, starred review

"A magnificent overview of this chapter in U.S. history."
School Library Journal

"The tale of the decade-long drought that laid waste to American plains and ruined the lives of countless farmers is a somber read, but Brown devotes himself to telling it well."
Publishers Weekly

"Anyone looking for an exemplar of how comics can bring a true story compellingly to life with depth and sophistication need look no further than Don Brown's account of the epic natural disaster of the 1930s, the Dust Bowl."
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review

"Concise and clear in imagery, text, and layout, Brown's nonfiction examination of the Dust Bowl contextualizes its genesis in geological and cultural history, the dynamics of its climatological presentation, and the affects on both the landscape and Depression-era High Plains farmers. . . . a complete visual package."
Booklist, starred review

"This is a solid nonfiction graphic-novel debut."
The Horn Book Magazine, starred review

"[A] careful and grim account of an environmental catastrophe."
The New York Times Book Review

Children's Literature - Raina Sedore
What, exactly, WAS the “dust bowl?” The phrase is used often, but many may not understand what it was like to live through the 1930s in the American Midwest. This graphic novel portrays the environmental, societal, and human events that resulted in a lethal series of dust storms covering a large proportion of the continental United States. Brown uses a mix of personal testimonies, infographic-like illustrations, and more narrative-oriented images to depict the struggles of life during the “dirty thirties.” The overarching narrative IS the dust bowl, and personal stories are minimal, but the full-color illustrations pull the reader along, and Brown adds elements of suspense to the telling. The illustrations are simple in style, but evocative in effect. This account is impressively detailed—Brown discusses how the dust bowl affected every aspect of life—from the pests that invaded people’s homes to the health effects of breathing dust constantly for so many years. He even addresses the inaccuracy of statistics dealing with the period. This is an impressively engaging telling of facts, packaged beautifully, and would be a wonderful choice for the classroom setting. Reviewer: Raina Sedore; Ages 8 to 15.
School Library Journal
09/01/2013
Gr 5 Up—Brown once again dives into American history, this time telling the story of the Dust Bowl in his first graphic novel. Starting with a tale of a terrifying 200-mile-long duster in 1935, he works back to explain what caused the devastation and its decadelong effects on the economy, the land, and the people. Brown's illustrations bring these facts to life, showing the severity of the tragedy; it's one thing to read about globs of mud falling from the sky like rain, it's quite another to see them painfully pelting a herd of cattle. The drab and beige colors add to the emotional impact and bleakness of each situation, as does Brown's sketch-heavy art style. Comic panels vary beautifully from full-page layouts of vast fields of nothing but dust and devastation to multipaneled action shots, such as an airplane falling out of a dust-filled sky, that instantly create a dramatic and tense mood. The graphic-novel format works well, but the addition of speech bubbles to deliver quotes seems awkward, since characters end up saying things like, "I thought it was the last day of the world" while actively fleeing from a disaster. The quotes are needed; some just seem out of place. Ending with a dismal warning about the potential of similar future disasters, Great American Dust Bowl is a magnificent overview of this chapter in U.S. history. Pair it with Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust (Scholastic, 1997) and Matt Phelan's The Storm in the Barn (Candlewick, 2009), both of which are more entertaining, but Brown's book is more informative.—Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI
Kirkus Reviews
A graphic-novel account of the science and history that first created and then, theoretically, destroyed the terrifying Dust Bowl storms that raged in the United States during the "dirty thirties." "A speck of dust is a tiny thing. Five of them could fit on the period at the end of this sentence." This white-lettered opening is set against a roiling mass of dark clouds that spills from verso to recto as a cartoon farmer and scores of wildlife flee for their lives. The dialogue balloon for the farmer--"Oh my God! Here it comes!"--is the first of many quotations (most of them more informative) from transcripts of eyewitnesses. These factual accounts are interspersed with eloquently simple explanations of the geology of the Great Plains, the mistake of replacing bison with cattle and other lead-ups to the devastations of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. The comic-book–style characters create relief from the relentlessly grim stories of hardship and loss, set in frames appropriately backgrounded in grays and browns. Although readers learn of how the U.S. government finally intervened to help out, the text does not spare them from accounts of crippling droughts even in the current decade. From its enticing, dramatic cover to its brown endpapers to a comical Grant Wood–esque final image, this is a worthy contribution to the nonfiction shelves. (bibliography, source notes, photographs) (Graphic nonfiction. 10 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547815503
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/8/2013
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 165,109
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.90 (w) x 10.30 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Don Brown is the award-winning author and illustrator of many picture book biographies. He has been widely praised for his resonant storytelling and his delicate watercolor paintings that evoke the excitement, humor, pain, and joy of lives lived with passion. School Library Journal has called him “a current pacesetter who has put the finishing touches on the standards for storyographies.” He lives in New York with his family.

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