Monday, November 11, 2013

The Great American Dust Bowl - a review

Brown, Don. 2013. The Great American Dust Bowl. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

In a slim (80-page), hardcover, graphic novel, Don Brown offers a compelling account of the causes, effects, and consequences of America's 19th century push into the Great Plains - first for ranching, then small farming enterprises, and finally, large-scale, motorized farming.  Years of drought combined with loss of prairie grassland that had sustained the American Indians and the wild buffalo herds, led to dust storms of epic proportions that lasted for a decade. Describing one storm, Brown writes,

On May 3, 1934, whirlwinds lifted 350 million tons of dirt from the Montana and the Dakotas' prairie, gathered them into gritty clouds that reached fifteen thousand feet, a height equal to twelve stacked Empire State Buildings. 
Enough dust to fill 1,500 modern supertankers blew East.
Dust fell like snow over Chicago.
Midday Manhattan darkened beneath a dusty gray haze. Cars switched on their headlights to see. The Statue of Liberty seemed to disappear. Everywhere, dust: streets, sidewalks, grass, even the water in New York Harbor.
Panels of varying sizes, including double-spread pages, are presented primarily in sepia tones, denoting both the time period and the ever-present dirt.  Facts are presented in text boxes or within panels, in easy-reading Tim Sale Brush font, and dialogue (documented in the Source Notes and Selected Bibliography) appears in word bubbles.  Illustrations are pen and ink with "digital paint.  The hard-luck farmers are simply sketched, but convey seriousness and gravity.  Smiles can only be found on the "rainmaker," a snake oil salesman who profited from the sale of useless items that promised to bring rain, and on the faces of a small family who rejoices outside as rain finally arrives to break the drought.

When the rain came, it meant life itself. It meant a future.

The Great American Dust Bowl may be read quickly, but will not soon leave your mind. My library has cataloged this one as a young adult title, but it's certainly suitable for middle grades as well.  I highly recommend it.
  • Title: Dust bowl farmer raising fence to keep it from being buried under drifting sand. Cimarron County, Oklahoma
  • Creator(s): Rothstein, Arthur, 1915-1985, photographer
  • Date Created/Published: 1936 Apr.
  • Rights Advisory: No known restrictions. For information, see U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs(
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540 USA
  • Title: Liberal (vicinity), Kan. Soil blown by dust bowl winds piled up in large drifts on a farm
  • Creator(s): Rothstein, Arthur, 1915-1985, photographer
  • Date Created/Published: 1936 March.
  • Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Other reviews @

Other outstanding books featuring the Dust Bowl Era:

Other Don Brown books reviewed by Shelf-employed:
Looking for more reviews of nonfiction books? 
Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Wrapped in Foil.


  1. I need to read a copy of this. Our sixth grade reads A Long Way from Chicago, and this would be a good one to read with it.

    1. I love A Long Way from Chicago and all the Grandma Dowdel books!

  2. Thanks for including all the related books and book reviews. Very helpful.


Beneath the Waves - a review

As we read disturbing news accounts of dying manatees , environmental disasters caused by toxic waste, and ocean pollution on the scale of ...