nonfiction nuggets…blizzards of grit; drifts of dust

the great american dust bowl cover imageThe Great American Dust Bowl, written and illustrated by Don Brown

In 1931, a drought settled on the American Southwest that would last almost ten years. Massive dust storms with dirt swirling ten thousand feet in the air turned skies dark, choked airplane engines, suffocated animals, seeped through chinks in walls and into people’s lungs.

Hundreds of millions of tons of dust whirled higher and higher, settling on cities as far away as Boston and Atlanta and even on ships at sea. Winter and summer temperatures skewed sharply, insect populations mushroomed, terrifying hordes offrom weru dot ksu dot edu photo of dust bowl grasshoppers overtook the plains. The worst dust storm of all occurred on Sunday, April 14, 1935 — a horror movie come to life for everyone in its path.

Finally, with the breaking of the drought, with assistance and an almost unimaginable amount of endurance on the part of those who remained or returned, the land began to heal and the people began to rebuild their lives.

Don Brown’s graphic novel brings this epic environmental disaster to life with gripping reality. His terse, sober descriptions of these events brew up tension and help us experience the palpable fear of those who lived through these monster storms again, and again, and again. The illustrations, pen and ink with digital paint, roil with menace, overwhelm with magnitude, choke with muddy grays and burnt browns.

the great american dust bowl illustrations don brown

There is a great deal of information packed in here, from an explanation of the natural, political, and societal events which led up to the Dust Bowl, to the breadth of bizarre phenomena that accompanied these storms. Included are a bibliography and source notes, where you’ll notice the many quotes from the Oklahoma Oral History Research Project which give Brown’s book such excellent substance.

It’s a riveting, disquieting book for ages 10 and up, masterfully crafted. New in 2013 and garnering lots of well-deserved praise.