The Dust Bowl #1

The Dust Bowl #1

by Michelle Jabès Corpora
The Dust Bowl #1

The Dust Bowl #1

by Michelle Jabès Corpora


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Set in the 1930s Oklahoma, this American Horse Tale is the story of a young girl who makes the difficult decision to leave her family and move to California so she can stay with her horse.

A young girl named Ginny and her family are dealing with the hardships of the Great Depression, and in order to survive, her dad decides they must sell their horse, and Ginny's best friend, Thimble. But Ginny will do anything in order to find a way for them to stay together, and chooses to leave her family in Oklahoma and travel west to California. The Dust Bowl is part of a series of books written by several authors highlighting the unique relationships between young girls and their horses.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593225257
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 06/29/2021
Series: American Horse Tales , #1
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 233,004
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile: 780L (what's this?)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Michelle Jabès Corpora is a writer, editor, community organizer, and martial artist. In addition to working in the publishing industry for more than a dozen years as an editor and concept developer, she has ghostwritten five novels in a long-running middle grade mystery series. American Horse Tales: The Dust Bowl is Michelle's first novel under her own name. Her second novel, The Fog of War: Martha Gellhorn at the D-Day Landings (Pushkin Press), also publishes in 2021.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: A Nice Day for a Ride

Keyes, Oklahoma
July 1936
I stood out by the barn, the paint peeling off it like an old snakeskin. Closing my eyes, I took a deep, deep breath. Most days, the air was chock-full of dust, but that afternoon it was real clear. Full of nothing but sunlight and the smell of Ma’s Ivory Snow laundry soap. I smiled.
“Ready, boy?” I asked, a leather lead in my hand.
At the other end of the lead, my horse, Thimble, looked over at me. He was light gray with jet black stockings, but since he ain’t hardly ever got a wash, the dust made him look tarnished, like an old spoon. Sometimes I wondered if we all don’t look that color. Once that red dust gets into you, it’s real hard to get out.
I’d already checked Thimble’s hooves, eyeballed the tack, and tightened the saddle straps around his belly. He nickered, a soft rumble in his throat. “That’s a silly question, Ginny,” he seemed to be saying. “I’m always ready!”
It must have been two weeks since my last ride. Between going to school whenever the weather wasn’t too bad and Ma keeping me busy doing odd jobs around the farm, I barely had time to do more than give Thimble his oats and hay. But not that day. I’d slipped away before Ma could make me do the sweeping like she always did after church on Sundays. As soon as I climbed up onto Thimble’s saddle, all my troubles just melted away. Up there, under the huge, unbroken sky, I finally felt like I was free.
Seemed like I wasn’t the only one fixing to run, either. As soon as Thimble reached the open plain outside the farm, he tore into a gallop, kicking up great clouds of dust that hung in the air behind us like a parade of ghosts.
The dust was everywhere those days. It crept under the front door, filled up Pa’s work boots, and slipped between our bedsheets at night. Sometimes it even found its way into my breakfast bowl of  mush. If I wasn’t so hungry every morning, I’d probably spit it out whenever some of that grit got in. But usually, I just added a little more sugar and tried not to think about it too much.
When I was little, there weren’t no dust at all. Back then, Oklahoma was green as green. The corn stood at attention like soldiers in the field, sweet and yellow and as tall as Pa. A cool breeze would blow through the husks when the sun went down, making a sound like shhh, shhh. But when the rain stopped falling, the corn all turned brown—and when the wind turned hot and mean, the corn got too tired to stand up anymore. That’s just how it looked as Thimble and I rode past: laid low on the dusty ground, as quiet and still as a graveyard. It felt like the whole world was holding its breath, and the only sound was Thimble’s hooves thundering across the earth.
“Whoa, Thimble,” I said after a few minutes. “Can’t go too far from home now—or we’ll miss supper.” Thimble slowed to a canter and then to an easy jog. “Good boy,” I said, combing my fingers through his mane, which was as thick and black as Pa’s.
I’d had Thimble for five years, but it might as well be forever. I still remember Pa telling me that the Atwoods’ old mare, Hannah, had foaled, and that they weren’t sure what to do with the colt because he was so runty. They used their horses to work the fields and didn’t think the wobbly little thing could manage it. I begged Pa to buy him, said I would make sure he came to good use on our farm. Ma said the money would be better spent on fabric to make a dress that wasn’t torn in three places, but I pulled out my prettiest please so Pa couldn’t help but give in.
As soon as I laid eyes on him at the Atwoods’ farm, it was love, pure and simple. He ran over to the gate the moment I came up, like he already knew I’d come just for him. But it was what happened on our way back that was really special. I was walking alongside him on the path when all of a sudden, he pulled on the reins, stopping me in my tracks just as something long and dirt-­colored slithered across the way. I’d almost stepped on a rattlesnake! “He’s like a little thimble, that one,” Pa had said, giving my new horse a pat. “Not much to look at, but seems like he’ll do a good job keeping you from harm.”
The name stuck. Thimble never did grow to be very big, but that didn’t matter much. If I asked him to pull the whole world on a cart for me, I’m pretty sure he’d go ahead and do it.
As we rode along the fence line toward the edge of our land, Thimble took a deep breath and sighed, as if he were saying, “Ahhh . . . What a nice day for a ride!”
I smiled. “It is nice, ain’t it?” It was still hot but not too bad, and any little break in the scorching heat wave we’d been having felt like paradise. The sky was a blue marble with wispy clouds that didn’t hurry by, but hung around to give us a little shade here and there. “One day,” I said dreamily, “when the rain comes back, all this will be green again. And you and me can work the land together. What do you think of that, boy?”
Thimble whinnied. I think he agreed that this was a good day for dreaming.
As a matter of fact, that day was the first in a long while that everybody in my family was feeling top dollar. When I got out of bed in the morning, I found Ma humming the gospel and opening every window in the house to let the fresh air blow in. We’d all put on our Sunday best, even me. Now, I’d much rather be in a pair of overalls than a dress, but Ma made me put one on, anyway. My sister, Gloria, was thrilled. She put on her fanciest frock and flounced around the kitchen like she was the queen of England. Ma says that when I’m sixteen, I’ll want to be just like Gloria, but I reckon that’s just Ma’s wishful thinking. She’s never really known what to do with me. Pa, on the other hand, took to teaching me all the things that boys know, on account of him never having a son. And let me tell you—it ain’t easy doing all those things in some fancy dress.
We all strolled out to church with the neighbors, everyone smiling and talking like things were normal again. Still, pretending things were normal was hard, even on good days. The church pews got emptier by the week, with so many families moving to California, where there wasn’t any dust and jobs were ripe for the picking.
“We ain’t going,” I’d heard Pa say to one of the other farmers after the sermon was done. “Things are bad,” he said. “But they ain’t that bad. Not yet at least.” I was glad. Even though life in Keyes was no picnic, it was home. I couldn’t imagine having to pack up and leave. Pa always told me that our blood was in this land, ever since my great-­grandfather bought it, back at the turn of the century. He farmed it, my grandpa and my pa farmed it, and one day I planned to farm it, too. I once told Pa that I was going to take over when he was too old to do it himself anymore, and he laughed. But I wasn’t joking. I was deadly serious. So tell me: How was I supposed to do that if we sold it all and went to California?
Pushing all those worries from my mind, I tried to concentrate on enjoying the ride. “Speaking of picnics,” I said to Thimble after a while, “you know what I’d like to eat, if I could have whatever I wanted?” His ears swiveled back, listening. “I reckon I’d have a plate of Ma’s fresh biscuits just drowning in some sausage gravy. And, for dessert, a big slice of pecan pie, all to myself.”
Thimble nickered. “What about me?”
I laughed and scratched behind his ears. “Don’t worry, boy, I wouldn’t forget about you. How about a basket of fresh apples with a few sugar cubes on top? Wouldn’t that just be heaven?”
I expected Thimble to nicker again, because there’s nothing my horse loves more than a handful of sugar cubes, but he didn’t. Instead he slowed to a stop, his body suddenly as tense as a guitar string. He raised his head high and opened his dark eyes so wide, I could see the whites all around them.
“What is it?” I asked. I’d been so caught up with thoughts of rain and California and hot buttered biscuits that I hadn’t noticed how cold it had gotten. I hadn’t bothered changing out of my blue gingham church dress to ride, which would probably make Ma bawl me out once I got back. I had been plenty warm in it all day, but I got to shivering as a chill wind started to blow in my direction.
By then, Thimble was really fretting something serious. He pawed the ground, drawing long, jagged lines in the dust, and he took a few steps back toward home. “Something’s wrong,” he seemed to be saying. “Very, very wrong.”
I raised a hand to my forehead to block the glare and looked around, searching for whatever had got Thimble so spooked. Our corner of Oklahoma was as flat as a pancake, so from just about anywhere, you could see for a hundred miles or more across the high plains. I looked past the neighbors’ old farm, past the huddled roofs of downtown Boise City, and then—I saw it.
A great black cloud the size of a mountain was sat right there on the horizon. But unlike the mountains in my schoolbooks, this one was moving—turning and twisting in on itself like a living thing that was darker than midnight and bigger than creation.
It was a dust storm. A whopper. And it was headed straight for us.
“Go, Thimble! Go home!” I shouted, my heart already galloping in my chest.
Thimble whinnied in reply and made a tight turn before breaking into a run so fast, it had me holding onto his saddle for dear life. All around us, the air crackled, alive, electric, and getting dustier by the minute. I pulled out the red bandanna I kept in my saddlebag and held it over my face as we crossed back onto our land. The ride seemed to pass in an instant, and before I knew it, I was throwing myself out of the saddle, tying Thimble’s lead to the gate, and dashing into my white clapboard house, with the scraggly bushes out front and the porch that sagged a little to the left.
I burst through the door, startling everyone sitting at the kitchen table. The house looked spick and span after the morning’s cleaning, and the windows were all still wide open.
Pa was ladling out bowls of soup at the head of the table while Ma passed around a basket of cornbread to the neighbors who had come to eat. Gloria sat in her chair, her church dress somehow still clean and pressed even after a whole day of wearing it. She looked up at me, judgment in her eyes, as I banged in like a billy goat.
“Virginia Mae Huggins!” Ma said, standing up with her hands on her hips. “What in the world has gotten into you, comin’ into the house like that? You are almost thirteen years old, you should know better! Where you been?”
“Close all them windows, quick!” I yelled, breathless. “There’s a duster comin’! A big one!”
Ma’s expression went from mad to scared in a snap. “Another duster?” she asked, her eyes turning to the sky outside. It was a question we seemed to ask all the time. Even though the storms came as regular as Sunday mass, we still kept on being surprised every time they did.
A moment later, the bright sunlight streaming through the kitchen windows started to fade. And then a low moan filled the air, like some angry spirit had come to haunt us. That sound got everyone moving. Everybody scrambled to shut the windows and stuff towels and sheets into the cracks. I moved to help, too, but then I remembered: Thimble was still out there.
“I’ve got to get Thimble into the barn before the storm hits!” I shouted over the noise and turned back to the front door.
“Ginny, no!” Pa called out. “It’s too dangerous!”
“Don’t you even think ’bout goin’ out there, young lady!” Ma commanded, starting to make her way toward me.
“I can’t jus’ leave him!” I cried and threw open the door, shutting it and my parents’ protests out behind me.
Outside, I could see the duster coming up the edge of our land, a wall of darkness like something from a nightmare. Stuff from the farm was blowing around like crazy. Old newspapers, Ma’s little flower pots, and half-­filled sacks of corn all tore past the porch like tumbleweeds. I grabbed a pair of goggles from the shelf and put them on to protect my eyes, then dunked my bandanna in a bucket of water before tying it tightly around my face. Okay, boy, I thought. I’m comin’ for ya. But when I looked at the hitching post where I’d left Thimble, all I could see was the rope he’d been tied to whipping in the wind.
My breath caught in my chest. He must have gotten scared and bolted. I wanted to shout for him, but the roaring storm would only steal my words away and fill my mouth with dust.
Thimble, I thought, my heart racing. Where are you?

Chapter 2: The Black Blizzard

I ran out into the front yard, nearly catching my death on the rusty old plow that lay half buried in the dust. The blowing wind was pushing and shoving like a bully on the playground, but somehow I stayed on my feet. I peered into the cornfields and over at the neighbors’ farm across the way, but my horse was nowhere to be seen. And it was getting harder and harder to see anything at all, with the storm coming up through the gate like an uninvited guest. Behind me the sun still shone on a bright afternoon, but beyond the duster, it was as black as night.
I was running out of time.
Flying specks of grit stung my arms and legs as I ran around the side of the house. I thought Thimble might have gone to his favorite spot out back, where the buffalo grass used to grow. I heard a screeching sound and looked up to see the squeaky windmill spinning so fast I thought it might just take off like an airplane. I hurried to where the sunburned grass stood in sad little patches, but Thimble wasn’t there, either. A lump rose in my throat. If he ain’t here, I thought, he could be anywhere. And I don’t have time for anywhere.
“Thimble!” I shouted through the damp bandanna, so worried that I didn’t even care how much dust I might breathe in. I sounded no louder than a field mouse against the roar of the storm, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw a twitch of movement. I turned to squint at the little garden shed nearby and saw a black tail flick behind it.
I dashed to the shed, and sure enough, Thimble was hunkered down behind it, taking shelter from the wind. Thank goodness I’d found him! I reached for his bridle to lead him to the barn where we’d be safe, but I must have looked a fright with my goggles, bandanna, and my hair flying every which way, because as soon as he laid eyes on me, he squealed, jumping away in terror.
“Whoa, Thimble, whoa!” I said, yanking the bandanna down off my mouth and pushing the goggles up onto my forehead so he could see my face. “It’s me, see? It’s Ginny!”
Thimble’s ears swiveled toward the sound of my voice, and I could see his body relax a little. He whinnied, like he was saying, “Oh, it’s you!”
I went to grab his bridle again, and this time he let me do it. Pulling my goggles and bandanna back on, I clicked my tongue to get him to follow me toward the barn on the other side of the house.
But before I could take two steps, the duster hit. Hard.
I felt my body get blown back by the thick, choking dust all around us. Everything went dark, like somebody had thrown a gunnysack over my head. I couldn’t see my own hand in front of my face, no less the barn up ahead. But there was nothing for it. We had to keep going or else we were going to die out there. We were pointed in the right direction, so I just had to hope that we didn’t get turned around along the way. I took a step forward, pulling Thimble’s lead with me. I might have worried that he’d get to fussing again, but my horse always finds his courage when it comes to protecting me from harm. He started to walk, one hoof in front of the other.
I slung an arm over Thimble’s neck as we inched forward, counting the steps as we went.
One, two, three . . .
The storm whipped my skin raw and tore at my dress, but we kept walking.
Eight, nine, ten . . .
It took nineteen steps for us to reach the barn, but it might as well have been a thousand. By the time I reached the barn door, I felt like I’d been rubbed all over with sandpaper. Thimble’s head hung low, his eyes squeezed shut and his breathing shallow. But at least we’d made it! The storm was still going strong, though, and the gathering dust was so deep that it was almost up to my knees. I needed to get us inside before we both got buried in it. I grabbed the iron ring on the door and pulled—but the wind was blowing so hard that I couldn’t get it open.
I pulled and pulled, but every time I got the door open a crack, the buffeting wind slammed it shut again. “Ugh!” I screamed, hitting the door with my fist. “Open!”
I was fixing to punch a hole straight through that door when a hand came out of the darkness, taking hold of that iron ring with me. Even though it was as dark as midnight, I’d recognize that big, leathery hand anywhere.
I turned to see my father appear out of the gloom, blown in like an angel without wings. He was wearing his own goggles and blue bandanna over his face, and his black hair and beard were coated with dust. Pa wasn’t a big man, but Ma always liked to say that he had a big spirit, and I knew that stubborn barn door didn’t have a chance against his strength.
Pa gave me a nod. Ready?
I tightened my grip on the iron ring and nodded back. Ready.
Together, we heaved at the barn door. My muscles screamed as I pulled with all my might. C’mon, c’mon! I thought, my heart thumping in my ears. Finally, the door flew open, hitting the wall of the barn with a terrific bang.

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