The Dust Bowl was a time in American history when conditions on the plains got so bad that some people thought it was the apocalypse. Over-farming, deforestation, and drought created dust storms of magnificent proportions that took over the Great Plains and even moved eastward. Folks hid inside when the black clouds of dust started coming, but even that wasn’t enough sometimes. Then, things got gritty.
Puns aside, this is one of the best non-fiction graphic novels of the year. It covers the geology of how plate tectonics formed the flat plains. It covers the history of the area with the symbiosis of buffalo, Native Americans, and the environment. Then, it covers the geographic, political, and socioeconomic changes that led to the growth of American agriculture in the area before telling the stories of the people who lived through one of the worst American environmental disasters.
The writing is phenomenal, particularly the pacing of the story. A lot of non-fiction graphic novels falter in the amount of words they use. Too many, and it feels like a textbook. Too few, and it’s like they’re just dumbing it down for you because attention spans are too short for a book that’s not mostly pictures. This one has just the right amount. It’s smart without being overly complicated. It teaches without the pop quizzes. It lets history be complex, yet makes learning about it fun.
The gorgeous art evokes an emotional response by using browns to paint the dusty picture of life at the time. You can practically feel the dirt coming out at you from the pages, and the darkness of the dust clouds illustrates the terror of suffocating storms better than any verbal description from my middle school social studies texts. The art style feels like a classic newspaper comic strip with added movement that leans toward cartoony.
I could easily see this book being used in a middle school classroom, though students may require some background and explanations of terms and events. Teens and adults might even pick it up because it’s a beautiful and quick read. However, the subject seems like it has immediate appeal for history buffs or environmentalists. However, if you’re even remotely interested in history or learning about stuff, try out The Great American Dust Bowl.
The Great American Dust Bowl
by Don Brown
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: 12-up